Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation by Drew D. Hansen

When Martin Luther King, Jr., stepped up to the microphone on August 28, 1963, 250,000 people filled the park in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Millions more were watching on television, as the networks covered the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom live on their evening news broadcasts. King looked out and thanked the crowd before beginning to read his prepared text. Other speakers of the day were limited to five minutes, but King was the last on the podium and the person that everyone had waited to hear. According to Drew D. Hanson in The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation, the crowd cheered and called for more as King read. After about ten minutes, he left the text and began preaching in the manner of the Baptist minister that he was. Among his words were "I have a dream."

With running commentary and description of the scene, Drew D. Hanson captures the emotion of the event and the speech in chapter one of his book. As a reader, I felt that I was there, even more than when hearing the recordings. I could not put the book down until I finished that chapter.

In the next chapter, Hansen explains how King drew upon the suggestions of his aides and from his previous speeches to prepare several drafts of the speech. It was a complicated process, and, in the end, King is most remembered for his on the spot inspiration, using blocks of texts from his sermons.

Hansen does not stop with praising of King and the speech. The final chapters are quite sad, as he reports that for the latter part of King's life, the dream became a nightmare. As the level of violence against and by blacks increased from 1963 to 1968, he was often ridiculed by many in the black community as a dreamer. Only his death stopped the downward slide of his popularity.

The author ends by chronicling the legacy of the Dream speech. For several years after the march, it was almost forgotten, but in the wake of King's assassination, it was rebroadcast, republished, and added to the great documents of the democratic curriculum. It is now the thing for which King is most remembered.

The Dream is a fairly quick read that should be out on library displays and in hands of readers during Black History Month.

Hansen, Drew D. The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation. CCCO, 2003. ISBN 0060084766

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