King's Fiery Speech Rarely Heard:
It is the time of year when students are taught about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech, so passionately delivered that his call for freedom changed U.S. history. Once heard, it is impossible to forget.
But many students won't get to hear it -- and most who do will hear only snippets, educators and historians said. And that, they said, is affecting the legacy of the preeminent civil rights leader, whose life will be honored tomorrow with an annual federal holiday.
"It lessens the historical saliency of King for younger kids," said Robert Brown, assistant dean of undergraduate education at Emory University in Atlanta who specializes in African American politics. "It is one thing to read King and another to see him. Hearing him is so much more powerful than reading it."
H. Patrick Swygert, president of Howard University, heard King on the Mall in Washington at the end of a day of marching and speeches in 1963. Tired listeners were respectful at the beginning, he said, but began to stir at the rhythm of King's words, the intensity of his voice and the power of the message, which was not just a description of the condition of blacks in America but a vision of something better.
"It is doubly sad for people today who do not hear the speech," Swygert said. "It certainly was one of the great moments of American oratory. But young people today don't often hear the message of possibility, and the second half of the speech was all about possibility."
All of King's speeches and papers are owned by his family, which has gone to court several times since the 1990s to protect its copyright; King obtained rights to his most famous speech a month after he gave it. Now, those who want to hear or use the speech in its entirety must buy a copy sanctioned by the King family, which receives the proceeds.