Speeches and Civil Rights: A Broader Lens Part 2

i have a dream speechWhile most people are familiar with the “I Have A Dream” speech, few realize that Martin Luther King Jr delivered as many as 450 speeches at more than 2500 public events during his lifetime. That number is astounding, begging the question, how could someone write so many speeches during their lifetime?

The answer is simple: he didn’t — at least not without help. Like most public speakers, MLK employed speechwriters to help his craft his speeches, even his “I Have A Dream” speech. Of course, he had a hand in shaping the speeches, taking what had been written for him and making it his own.

But Martin Luther King Jr. knew, as the best public speakers always do, that he was not the focal point his speeches. Instead, he was giving voice to the civil rights movement en masse. So he enlisted the help of other civil rights leaders to lend their words.

In this second half of our series on speeches, we will examine three prominent African American speechwriters, past and present.
Clarence B. Jones
Jones was a close advisor and personal counsel for Martin Luther King, as well as the first African American allied member of the New York Stock Exchange. Despite his other triumphs, Jones is best known as a coauthor of King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

Jones had taken over as a speechwriter for King three years before the March on Washington as a result of increasing FBI interest in King and his associates forced King’s previous speechwriter, Stanley David Levison, to step away from the movement. He told Vanity Fair“I had listened to King speak so often that I could hear his cadence in my head and ears.”

J. Terry Edmunds
Edmunds has the distinction of being the very first African-American Speechwriter in the White House, although Edmunds didn’t realize that himself after first taking the job during the Clinton Administration.
He tells Gothamist,”I thought that I had been given an opportunity to do something momentous, important and hopefully fun. After being on the job for a while, getting my feet wet and what have you, it did gradually dawn on me.”

Edmunds had intended to be a journalist in college but struggled to find work, pointing out that the jobs simply weren’t available in the early 70s. So Edmund took a job as in public relations. Slowly he became involved in politics, working as press secretary for then-Maryland Congressman Kweisi Mfume, and then as the speechwriter for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala. From there, he moved to the White House.

Stacey Abrams
While Georgia state Representative Abrams is best known for her current campaign for Alabama’s Gubernatorial race, she began her career working as a typist while in high school. However, she quickly came to the attention of campaign leadership when the tweaks she made were considered so good that she was hired as a speechwriter at the young age of 17.

While Rep. Abrams seems to have transitioned into the one giving the speeches, it is no doubt that she still pays close attention to the words and message, telling the Guardian “We need good politicians who actually respect government and understand how all the different pieces work to run.”

Whether you are talking about the “I Have A Dream” Speech or Obama’s Inauguration, speeches have always been at the very heart of the civil rights movement and human rights in general. Leaders like Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X, and Barack Obama have long been lauded for their ability to deliver monumental speeches. Hopefully we have helped shine light on the African Americans who write them.

Speeches and Civil Rights: A Broader Lens Part 1

the civil rights movementSpeeches are inherently epic. They are not quite story, nor vision, nor lecture, but a combination of all three, mixed with a healthy dose of theatricality and boundless passion. If you need proof, look no further than Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech. The iconic speech is a highlight of the Civil Rights Movement; the audio is still used as a tentpole for civil rights education today.

But did you know that the speech wasn’t entirely written by the civil rights leader? In fact, the first draft was almost entirely written by two of MLK’s frequent speech writers, Stanley David Levison and Clarence B. Jones.

While this information might be shocking, it is actually a very common and accepted practice for a speech to be written with very little influence from the person delivering it — at least in the earliest stages.

In this two-part series, we will explore the topic of speeches and speechwriting. This first installment will look at what goes into crafting a good speech and later, we will delve into the best African American speech writers, past and present.

Part 1: What Makes a Good Speech?

  1. Structure
    Human beings are pattern seekers. We like to make sense of the whole to have an idea of what is coming next. If a speech doesn’t have the structure to provide this comfort, the structure to lead the listeners to arrive at the same destination, then it will not be successful.
  2. Rhythm
    Rhythm is an important part of any speech. It is, after all, meant to be heard, meant to be listened to. The same rhythms that Shakespeare used in his poetry can make a speech transcend a lecture, creating an experience and fostering a community.
  3. Repetition
    Repetition can help solidify ideas in the minds of the audience. This way, a listening audience can take away the most important parts of the speech. But repetition can be used to harken back to other great speeches or literary works. MLK harkens back to the Bible in his speech, and to the speeches of his contemporaries, giving his audience context and his words gravitas.
  4. Humanity
    One thing that is often overlooked by amateur speechwriters is making a human, emotional appeal to their base. People, in general, don’t like facts — especially ones that don’t align with their own biases. You can talk about the statistics, the fact that in 2015 the average black family was 13 times poorer than a white family, but those numbers will fall on deaf ears. But a father talking about his dream for his four children can touch the hearts of even those with closed minds. It is something that every parent experiences, it is relatable and it is human. There is a reason why the speech is titled I Have a Dream. The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement knew that he needed to make a personal connection if he wanted to reach a broader audience

Then, as in now, it takes a lot of skill to become a speech writer. The second part of this series will highlight the very best African American speechwriters of the Civil Rights Movement and today.

The Selma-to-Montgomery March and How the World Changed

mlk speechThere have been thousands of days throughout history that standout as monumental events for America. The U.S. declaring war on the Empire of Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Woodstock Festival and Vietnam War protests, and the Space race against the Soviet Union all are some of the most life-altering moments throughout history, but none, one could argue, represent more of a change than the Selma-to-Montgomery march in the spring of 1956.

For 18 days, from March 7th to the 25th, the entire world looked at Selma, Alabama as the focus point for the battle for civil rights in the effort to register black voters in the South. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were at the helm of this historic moment.

The MLK speech was in 1963 and gave King a massive following. So, with King at the helm, 2,000 people marched 54 miles to Montgomery, Alabama in hopes of changing the world.

During their first ascent, the thousands of nonviolent marchers were met by Alabama state troopers and area possemen and were attacked with billy clubs, tear gas, and other weapons as the marchers attempted to pass over the county line. The entire world watched as law enforcement officers beat nonviolent protesters, young men and women alike, unconscious.

The tragic beating would later be known as Bloody Sunday.

After a federal injunction that required the troopers, police, and possemen to allow the marchers to pass, with King at the front, a white group of murderers beat and killed James Reeb, a civil rights activist and minister from Boston.

After the bloody televised beatings and unjust killing of Reeb, the general public began to shift from silently watching the events unfold to national outcry. Protesters began demanding protection for the Selma marchers and for a new federal voting rights law to be implemented, which would allow African Americans to both register to vote and vote without any harassment or intimidation.

Despite Alabama Governor, and segregationist, George Wallace’s refusal to protect MLK and the marchers, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered thousands of members of the Alabama National Guard, Federal Marshals, and FBI to protect the marchers. And by the end of the historic march, after adding on nearly 25,000 additional people who joined in support of voting rights, the marchers successfully arrived in Montgomery on March 25.

Thanks to this historic march, the famous MLK speech that took place two years prior, and countless other moments throughout the fight for civil rights, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted on August 6. The landmark piece of federal legislation prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

If you want to learn more about this monumental moment in human history, or learn more about the historic MLK speech, checkout KingProgram.net today.

How To Teach Your Children About The Civil Rights Movement

speechWith every generation, the U.S. population moves further away from the Civil Rights movement. While they may have read quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent black figures, they do not truly understand the depth of the time. Katie Bodell writes in the Trekaroo blog about the importance of teaching our children about this landmark fight for equality:

“The American Civil Rights Movement is important to impress on our children, not because it was something phenomenally important that happened in our past, long before our kids were born, but because racism and its terrible effects continue to plague our society. Although we have made strides, as a nation we are still haunted with an elusive dream of equality. From class disparity to immigration laws, to social inequality and even open and often un-prosecuted racism, we still have a long way to go.”

As a parent, consider following these tips to go beyond your child’s speedy school history lessons when talking about Civil Rights.

  1. Select A Black-Made Documentary: If you are choosing to show your child a documentary or film about Civil Rights, try to select one that was crated by a black filmmaker.
    This will not only support a black artist’s work, but will also prevent your child from learning about Civil Rights through an exclusively white lens.
  2. Listen To Famous Recordings: There is nothing quite like hearing the exact words that were said during that powerful time. Listen to Martin Luther King Junior as well as the speeches of other activists and governmental figures. Talk about the true meaning of these speeches and allow your child to ask questions.
  3. Learn About Female Activists: Remember that while many of the famous speeches and writings taught in history books were made by men, there were some powerful women involved in Civil Rights that your child should know about. Dorothy Height and Diane Nash, for example, were just two of the incredible women pioneering this time.
  4. Visit Museums And Historic Sites: If you are able to, consider taking your child to Washington D.C. to stand on the exact spot where the famous MLK speech actually happened in front of 15,000 to 30,000 people. While there, you can also take them to the National Museum Of African American History And Culture.

Remember that every child processes significant historical and cultural information differently. You may need to answer questions or allow your child to choose their own method of learning. Regardless of the method, you are providing an important education to your child. While they might not realize it, this important history impacts their life today.

Historically Black Colleges Are Just As Important Today As In MLK’s Time

mlk audio documentaryAccording to Essence, Dillard University has become one of the United States top producers of black physicists in the nation. The New Orleans-based historically black university has ranked as the second highest generator of black physicists, despite the small size of just over 1,200 students.

This success is not only about the relative size of the college — although that in and of itself would be an impressive feat. The comparatively small budget that Dillard and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities have to work with also adds to this success.

But Dillard is not the only historically black school that has seen an increase of black student scientists. According to the American Institute of Physics, a majority of black undergraduates graduating with a degree in physics come from historically black colleges and universities.

“Degrees in physics are rare for women and minorities and that Dillard — with a campus that is 73 percent female — is outpacing its larger counterparts is significant,” University of Pennsylvania professor Marybeth Gasman told The Associated Press.

Many of the people graduating college this commencement season won’t remember why historically black colleges and universities were necessary. After all, most of them were born well after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by the 88th Congress, banning discrimination in public places and schools.

But while things have come a long way since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s day, black people now, as they did then, are struggling to find their bearing in what is unfortunately still the very white world of academia and science.

Martin Luther King Jr. was himself a student of a historically black college, Morehouse College. It was during his time at Morehouse that he discovered his passion for service and was called to the church.

Listening to the Martin Luther King Jr speech audio of his I Have a Dream Speech, you can hear that the dream of true brotherhood and equality have yet to be realized. But schools Like Dillard are doing their best to make up for it in the meantime.

If you would like more information on Dr. King Jr., his time at Morehouse, and his work as a civil rights leader, listen to our MLK audio documentary. Our MLK audio documentary is a three-hour journey through the most pivotal Moments in Martin Luther King Jrs. life.

A History of Black American Orators

Martin Luther KingMartin Luther King Jr. is regarded as one of the best speakers of all time, and not just among Americans. His skills, refined by his rigorous schedule of 450 speeches per year (that’s 2,500 public events in his lifetime!), are part of the reason why MLK and his legacy has endured so brightly, even as other important Civil Rights figures, such as Ella Baker and Bayard Rustin, slipped into obscurity.

One only has to listen to Martin Luther King speeches audio to understand why he was able to have such an effect on the crowds who gathered to hear him. He spoke slowly and surely, giving each word the time to land and make its full impact.

But Dr. King was not alone. American history is filled with powerful black orators. In this blog post, we will examine a few of the most famous black speakers in U.S. history.

Fredrick Douglass

Starting life as a slave, Douglass eventually escaped to the North where he became a renowned advocate for abolition and civil rights. He is best remembered for his speeches to Congress about the best way to end slavery during the civil war and his memoir about his time in slavery. In private, he met with Abraham Lincoln, who wrote that their conversation greatly influenced his own views on slavery.

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner was also an escaped slave. After her escape, she became a member of an evangelical religion and an advocate for moral reform and abolition. Although she was illiterate, Sojourner’s quick wit, dedication, and personal magnetism distinguished her as an unparalleled orator, a legacy solidified in her famous extemporaneous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?”

Malcolm X

While Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are often represented as opposite sides of the civil rights movement, one commonality is their oratory virtuosity. Malcolm X believed that the key to good public speaking was knowledge, and he spoke with the breadth of understanding of black struggles not only in the United States but the world over.

Jesse Jackson

Jackson came up as an orator during the prime of MLK’s career. Jackson would often open for King, and as a young man he learned much of his technique from the civil rights hero. But what makes Jackson so successful as a speaker is his unique language, inspired by the musicality of jazz and blues. His two campaign’s for president proved that black Americans were a political force to be reckoned with.

Barack and Michelle Obama

The first Black President and First Lady have accomplished a great deal in a short time. Their efforts have launched initiatives from health care to school lunches to softening the discriminatory war on drugs. But what makes them truly exceptional is their oratory ability. Former President Barack Obama’s dignity and eloquence has been undeniable since the earliest days of his presidential campaign, and Mrs. Obama’s speech at the 2016 Democratic Convention was a highlight of the week-long event. When the Obamas turn it on, they can bring the house down.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a world class speaker, and one in a legacy of powerful black orators. Ranging from escaped slaves to the leader of the free world, these men and women have had a profound effect in the shaping of our young nation.

5 Important Contemporaries of MLK

civil rightsMartin Luther King. The name alone inspires a sense of awe. How could a man have accomplished so much, fought against so much oppression and hatred? How could a man who had been sent to jail 29 times simply for standing for his convictions be the same man who gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech? Listening to the audio, how could he have spoken with such confidence and vision?

In short? He had help. Thousands of people volunteered to march with him, to stare down oppression at the lunch counter, or on the bus. Martin Luther King Jr. and his beautiful speeches did not happen in a vacuum. They were inspired by and delivered to the people who shared his dream and worked with him to bring us closer to achieving it.

Dorothy Height

Dorothy Height had the distinction of being the only woman standing behind King on the day he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. But she is perhaps best remembered as a pioneer of intersectional black and women’s rights. In fact, the day after MLK’s speech, she organized a meeting on racism and sexism. She continues her work with the YWCA and four decades leading the National Council of Negro Women.

Asa Philip Randolph

Randolph created the first prominent Africa-American labor union and used the threat of non-violent protest to force the desegregation of the Armed Forces, well before Dr. King came onto the scene. It’s small wonder that MLK referred to him as the “Dean of Negro Leaders.”

Septima Poinsette Clark

When MLK referred to her as the “Mother of the Movement,” he was not exaggerating. To him, her contribution to the civil rights movement were so great that he insisted she travel with him when he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. She is best remembered for founding hundreds of citizenship schools, which taught adult literacy with the aim of increasing black votership.

Bayard Rustin

A close confident of MLK, Bayard Rustin’s most visible contribution to the civil rights movement was organizing the Washington March where MLK gave his most famous speech. He is also notable as one of the few gay men within the leadership of the civil rights movement, although he only became an advocate for gay rights later in life.

Ella Baker

Ella Baker was an instrumental part of the civil rights movement, even working as an executive of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference between 1957 and 1960. She is known for her work with young activists, instilling in them the idea of “group-centric leadership”. She is likely best known for her contentious relationship with MLK and others in the male-dominated civil rights movement. She once said, speaking of MLK, that he was a product of the civil rights movement, not the other way around.

The Civil Rights Movement was the product of thousands of volunteers and activists, and while it is important to recognize Martin Luther King Jr.’s contribution, it must also be acknowledged that no one succeeds in a vacuum.

The 4 Best Documentaries on Black America in the Last 10 Years

documentaryWhether you are trying to build a curriculum, or simply looking to learn a little more about the black civil rights movement, it can be daunting to know where to start. Sure, some things are easy: one of the first things you should do is listen to the audio of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in which MLK perfectly captured the hopes and dreams of an entire centuries-long struggle.

But after that? It can be easy to get lost in the plethora of documentaries and literature that has been produced on the subject. Some, like the documentary Malcolm X by Arnold Perl, have stood the test of time. Others simply haven’t.

With the resurgence of the black civil right movement, led by groups like Black Lives Matter, there has been an increased interest in the original movement and the black experience in the United states.

To help with your search, we’ve gathered four of the best documentaries to come out in the last decade.

The Black Power Mixtape (2011)

The Black Power Mixtape tells the story of the black power movement like it hasn’t been told before. By editing recently discovered footage that had been shot by Swedish journalists in the 1960s and 1970s, director Goran Olsson is able to shape the footage in order to give a compelling look at the rise and the fall of the black power movement, and its tension with MLK’s civil rights movement.

Dark Girls (2011)

Dark Girls is different from some of the other documentaries on this list, as it is more a sociological exploration of colorism. Colorism is the belief that even among black and brown peoples, lighter skin is preferable. The film explores the way colorism pervades the community, creating a $10 billion skin lightening industry worldwide.

13th (2016)

13th explores the eponymous constitutional amendment and its ramifications, especially in the industrial prison complex. The documentary takes care to show the ways that black communities are affected by political actions such as the war on drugs. It does not shy away from the sad fact of black American life, where the average family is 13% poorer than the average white family, or where you are significantly more likely to go to jail for a crime a white person would not be charged for.

I Am Not Your Negro (2017)

Based on an unfinished manuscript of black master author James Baldwin, this documentary is a rumination on the lives and deaths of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medger Evers, as well as an exploration of the discrimination at the time and why it persists to this day.

While these four documentaries are fantastic, they are in no way a comprehensive list. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of your discovery.

A Brief History of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was, and continues to be, a great inspiration in the fight for civil rights. The audio of MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech remains one of the most moving and powerful speeches ever presented. Here is a brief look into the life of a man who would become one of the most famous civil right’s leaders of all time.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929. Hailing from Georgia, King had a long history of Baptist ministers in his family. His family life was comfortable and loving, but Martin was exposed to racism despite all that. His father, Martin Luther King Sr., fought against racism, instilling these strong beliefs into his son very early on.

King then went on to go to college in 1948 and earned a sociology degree. He was a very good student and constantly at the top of his class. It was here he become more spiritually aware, and began to believe Christianity could be used to inflict positive social changes on the world.

King’s first entrance into the spotlight came because of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He soon became a figurehead and powerful speaker for the injustice and cruelty facing black people during this time. King would go on to speak at over 2500 events and deliver around 450 speeches per year. His powerful and passionate words paved the way for great change in America.

His most famous speech was delivered in the summer of 1963. The “I Have A Dream” speech was King’s attempt to get Washington to really listen. And, even if in the end it did not have his immediate, desired effect, it has stood the test of time through video, audio and written accounts of that momentous day.

On April 4th, 1968, King was assassinated while standing on his balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The shooter, James Earl Ray, eluded police for two months before he was captured. He was tried and eventually sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Although King’s life was suddenly taken from him, his words never left the hearts of the American people. His speeches continue to inspire every leader and follower of civil rights.
For more info on King and his legacy, please visit kingprogram.net

Dr. Bernice A. King, MLK’s Daughter, Continues the Fight for Equality

On August 28, 1968, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, American icon and civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. gave the most historic speech in all of history. Martin Luther King Jr. spent years fighting for civil rights, leading thousands 2,000 people on a 5 day, 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, joint jail nearly 30 times for the cause, and penned a letter from the Birmingham Jail that encouraged millions to help change the world.

Sadly, despite making significant progress over the last 50 years, we are still far behind the times. Discrimination still exists in force but now hides behind digital anonymity and code words, although there are plenty of examples that are certainly out in the open. And black families are still much poorer than white families and are often treated unfairly by law enforcement and other authoritative figures.

Luckily, Martin Luther King’s legacy lives on and people are fighting for equal rights across the world. One of those civil rights activists is actually his daughter, Dr. Bernice A. King. Dr. King recently spoke at East Tennessee State University to talk about how she continued her parents’ legacy over the years.

According to The Erwin Record, Dr. King is the Chief Executive Officer of The King Center, which was founded by her mother, Coretta Scott King, in 1968, shortly after MLK was shot and killed. The King Center’s Board of Trustees appointed Dr. King to her CEO position in 2012, after years of proving she has the same message as her mother and late father.

Dr. Bernice A. King spoke at her mother’s stead at the United Nations when she was only 17 years old.

“What I’m trying to do is fulfill what my father said, which is, ‘We have to find a way to live together as brothers and sisters, or together we’re going to perish as fools,'” Dr. King said.

We still have a long way to go in order to live in the world that Dr. MLK dreamed of, but as long as we have inspiring leaders like his daughter and others, there will always be people fighting for progress. Check out the famous MLK speech and documentary at KingProgram.net.