Martin Luther King & The Power Of Words

by Anne Wayman

the power of wordsJonathan Fields has a post today called You Have A Dream. So What?

As usual with Jonathan, the post is provocative. I’m not sure I agree with him this time, although I’m also not sure that matters.

Jonathan says in part, “But it’s not Dr. King’s dream that moves me, it’s the action it inspired.”

I don’t think the action can be neatly separated from the words – at least not in this case, nor, come to think of it, in any of the truly moving speeches we remember from time to time. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s a combination of the delivery of those words in the context of their times.

King was speaking t0 civil rights supporters on August 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I was busy being a young mother and followed the movement with little comprehension on the nightly news.

And yet, King’s speech somehow moved me and has moved me year after year after year.

But I’ve only been moved as a white woman - here’s what one person had to say back in 2011 about the results of that talk:

Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did by Hamden Rice.

No, I had and have no idea! With Rice’s essay I’m moved again.

For me the power of words can’t be underestimated. We are, from time-to-time, blessed to hear words that change our awareness, our consciousness. We are moved by the words we hear or the words we read.

Out of those changes comes action – sometimes obvious, sometimes almost unnoticeable, like the power of water to move mountains, a wee bit at a time.

Perhaps the lesson for writers is to what, speak from the heart. That sounds trite, but that’s what King did – straight from the heart of the injustice he experienced and perceived and longed to end.

Would that we all spoke and wrote that kind of truth from tine-to-time.

~~~~~~

There’s an audio of King’s speech below and you can find a written transcript here.

Image: Library of congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003688129/

What would you like to say about this speech and the power of words?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth West January 25, 2014 at 7:16 am

I read that essay. Very powerful. It made me think of how women are treated on the Internet these days. Unfortunately, there are places where this racial crap still happens. In this day and age, it’s hard to believe that people still treat others that way, and that many have learned so little. Unless you lived with that kind of terror and oppression and threat, you really have no idea what it was (is) like.
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annew January 25, 2014 at 8:07 am

Institutional racism is particularly invisible I think.

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Helene Poulakou January 21, 2014 at 10:57 pm

No, I had no idea either!

Reading Rice’s essay, got me reflecting on some modern-day analogies with other population groups, in other places of the world…
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annew January 22, 2014 at 8:46 am

Yes, I had the same thought about American Indians and, as you say, other modern day populations.

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