I find myself bracing for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday celebrations. I envision speaker after speaker struggling to reinterpret, as if the audience had not heard before, among other things, King’s dream about the red hills of Georgia and the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners.
If the speaker is skilled, then we will be transported to King’s dream and be enveloped in a rhetorically induced vaporous cloud where we can almost see children playing together and hardened hearts softened.
Perhaps we need such images. In a world where we sometimes want to shout, “Stop the Crazy!” it may be comforting to hearken to a time when we were encouraged to just be better. To just fulfill the promise.
King’s speech is faithfully taught in classrooms throughout the country. Countless children have memorized portions of the speech and then performed their parts before audiences large and small. And all too often that is it. That is all we know of King’s goals and proposals.
And while the speech may be important to teach to children, perhaps it’s time for a grown-up version of King.