Saturday, August 24, 2013

The MLKing Speech

Robert Kaiser, who was an intern at the Washington Post then, was assigned to help cover the March on Washington. He writes a column today on how the Post missed Martin Luther King's speech: I Have a Dream".  Two paragraphs towards the end:
"We were poised and ready for a riot, for trouble, for unexpected events — but not for history to be made. Baker’s 1,300-word lead story, which began under a banner headline on the front page and summarized the events of the day, did not mention King’s name or his speech. It did note that the crowd easily exceeded 200,000, the biggest assemblage in Washington “within memory” — and they all remained “orderly.”
In that paper of Aug. 29, 1963, The Post published two dozen stories about the march. Every one missed the importance of King’s address. The words “I have a dream” appeared in only one, a wrap-up of the day’s rhetoric on Page A15 — in the fifth paragraph. We also printed brief excerpts from the speeches, but the three paragraphs chosen from King’s speech did not include “I have a dream.”
This is how history sometimes happens.  The actual occurrence is like a speck of sand, nearly indistinguishable among all the other events happening concurrently.  But somehow it gets inserted into an oyster and layers of nacre begin to build, gradually forming what we recognize as a pearl, and obscuring the very existence of any other happening.

Sometimes it's different.  For example, JFK's inaugural speech got generally good reviews, if my memory is accurate.  His "ask not what you can do for the country..." was recognized as a good line and not much more.  But through the years, particularly after his "martyrdom", as writers wanted to discuss his oratory, and wanted something good to work from, that particular sentence was selected more and more, until in the end it predominates in our memory of him.

No comments: