Newswise — While MLK’s first “Dream” speech — given nine months before the March on Washington —was played publicly for the first time Tuesday, it’s a speech King had been practicing since he was a teenager.
Wake Forest University communication professor John Llewellyn and then first-year student, William Murphy became the first to identify the striking parallels between King’s legendary 1963 “Dream” speech and an address he delivered as a 15-year-old.
Llewellyn and Murphy found that King shared the underlying themes, principles and images of his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech during a speech contest in Dublin, Georgia, in 1944 – nearly twenty years before his national address on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
“I was doing research online for my first year seminar, and found Dr. King’s winning speech from the Georgia Black Elks contest when he was still in high school,” said Murphy, who graduated in 2012. “As I read it, along with several other speeches and really got into his writings, I noticed the similarities to his most famous speech. His early writing had the same themes and imagery, but they were definitely more polished when he performed ‘I Have a Dream.’”
Llewellyn was surprised that other scholars hadn’t seen the similarities previously. “The parallels between the speeches are so striking,” said Llewellyn. “Brotherly love, nonviolence and freedom from racial hatred are all contained in his 1944 speech. He even described scenes of black and white children playing together in harmony – famously echoed in the ‘Dream’ speech.”
As the nation celebrates the 52nd anniversary of the “Dream” speech on August 28, Llewellyn and Murphy’s findings show there is still much to learn about the civil rights pioneer.
In the paper the two men co-authored, they point out King’s 1944 speech mentions the history of Marian Anderson, one of the great contralto singers of her time, banned by the Daughters of the American Revolution from singing at Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin in 1939. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the group in protest, and invited Anderson to sing on the Washington Mall – the same site where King would present his stirring ‘Dream’ speech 24 years later.
“Anderson’s effect on King was not only incorporated in his 15-year-old writings, but in his more polished ‘I Have a Dream’ presentation.” Llewellyn said. “Will’s research found that Anderson sang ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ in the same drawn out phrasing King used in 1963, and she closed her 1939 performance with two Negro spirituals. King ended his ‘Dream’ speech in the same way, which is where the ‘Free at last!’ quotation comes from” — a phrase also used when King spoke in Wake Forest’s Wait Chapel on October 11, 1962.
Original texts of King’s 1944 speech and 1963 speeches, along with the paper Murphy and Llewellyn wrote, may be seen at http://go.wfu.edu/mlkspeech.
Llewellyn is available for interviews. About Wake Forest UniversityWake Forest University combines the best traditions of a small liberal arts college with the resources of a large research university. Founded in 1834, the school is located in Winston-Salem, N.C. The University’s graduate school of arts and sciences, divinity school, and nationally ranked schools of law, medicine and business enrich our intellectual environment. Learn more about Wake Forest University at www.wfu.edu.