The new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. is to be dedicated on August 28, 2011, the 48th anniversary of King’s phenomenal I Have A Dream speech. I won’t delve into King’s history, I’m sure you all know it (shame on you if you don’t :)) What I want to focus on is the speech itself.
What A Speech!
What powerful words. Even now, I can close my eyes and hear him stirring the crowds with his powerful voice. It gives me the chills when I hear him talking. As King spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he inspired people in so many ways.
But did you know that the speech actually had multiple versions, written at different times? King was working with a draft called Normalcy, Never Again, but much of that text does not end up in the final version. Twelve hours before he delivered the speech, King still didn’t have a final draft. And the most famous part of the speech was ad-libbed. Why? Because African-American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who was in the crowd, shouted…
Tell Them About The Dream, Martin
History states that King stopped when he heard Jackson, and he started preaching. King emphasized each point that he made with the phrase, I have a dream. But why was King so great “off the cuff”? He was a gifted orator, for sure, but he’d also had years of practice as a Baptist minister, years of schooling, and years of delivering speeches. The style of the speech itself is similar to a sermon, referencing the Bible, along with the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the U.S. Constitution. King drew from all this to deliver such a powerful and emotional speech.
What Has This To Do With Writing?
It’s important to remember that King practiced. Yes, he had a gift, but I have no doubt that he honed his skills over time, so that by the time people heard his iconic speeches, the speeches were indeed great.
As writers, we need to hone our craft. We need to edit our words, just like King did with his speech. We also need to follow the muse and let the inspirational accidents occur, and then shape those accidents with our writing knowledge. Then our words can indeed inspire, even if it’s just to effortlessly pull our readers into the worlds of our imagination.