Things are happening in the little garden out back . . .
. . . and there are all sorts of delights around the neighborhood . . .
. . . and way over yonder, across the big pond, they are celebrating, commemorating the 1963 March on Washington. A few days ago, I heard Martin Luther King III speak. No offense to him, but he doesn’t have his father’s voice. Man, his father’s voice, now that was something.
The 1963 MLK, Jr. speech was, of course, the “I have a dream” speech–but it’s another King speech, one given almost five years later, that’s been on my mind the last couple of months. Actually, I think it’s been on my mind forever.
Memphis. April 3, 1968. The next day he’d be shot down standing out on the balcony of his motel room. He seemed to have had premonitions that he would be.
That voice. I guess everyone has their own way of characterizing it, but for me it was both the voice of all courage and the voice of all humility. It was honest, never deceptive. It was a voice that knew that truth could be hidden–but could not be made untrue. The voice never stretched unnaturally, never seemed to push “authority” into words that didn’t deserve it. You couldn’t help but listen and believe, and believing would make you feel so grateful that you–yes, you–had actually heard it for yourself with your very own, perhaps unelegant, pair of ears. A blessing, for sure.
Unless you didn’t like what he had to say. In which case you probably would have felt scared to death. Because you couldn’t help but hear the truth in that voice, no matter what you wanted to hear. But listen for yourself. See what you think.
Next spring, I’m planning to teach To Kill a Mockingbird. It’ll be the second time in the last couple of years. This time I’ve got an idea to pair it with a set of MLK, Jr. speeches. About a month ago, I was looking through a book I thought my Japanese students might be interested in, a King biography written for American children (from the Heroes of America, Illustrated Lives series)–one that my students could read very easily. (Fun for me to read, too!) In it, I learned something new. Coretta Scott King said that she had been pretty sure her husband had originally planned on saying one more line. “What?” I thought. “That’s impossible!”
That final line, “Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the lord!” is absolutely perfect. It says everything that needs to be said to finish off that speech. When you watch the video clip and see how King turns and almost falls away from the microphone after delivering the line, you know that he knew it was the perfect ending, too.
Where to finish? That’s the question. “His truth is marching on!” is not a bad line, either. Only you don’t need it, not here. It’s the age-old adage: less is more. You’ve just had the greatest moment in the history of oratory. ‘Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the lord!’ The power of those words are ringing in the ears of all. Add something, even something really good, and you diminish it. You diminish both lines. Of course, to pull off the “Mine eyes” line, it helps to have a voice like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s.
I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!
Voice. Knowing where to finish. And there you have it.
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“I had heard the name Martin Luther King before and had had a vague idea that blacks in America had been treated badly, but I had never known any more of black history than that. As Lee, an American, began to tell of it, I felt uneasy.” (Kenta Ishiguro, narrator of Along the Same Street)