Averyt: Words Have Power

Aug 30, 2017

I wonder what Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr would have thought about Twitter. Limited to one hundred and forty characters, today's tweets are commonly regarded as disposable political rhetoric.

But words have power, and King understood this better than most. He used them to motivate and inspire a generation. And his words still resound; his message of hope still inspires.

On an afternoon in 1963, just before Labor Day, King stood in front of a monumental statue - not commemorating a Confederate leader, but rather the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln - and told us about his American dream of a great nation of compassion and inclusiveness, not one diminished by bigotry, hatred, and racism.

More than two hundred and fifty thousand people filled the National Mall as King looked out over a sea of black and white faces and spoke words that became a clarion call for the Civil Rights movement – expressing the hope “that one day this nation will... live out the true meaning of its creed... that all men are created equal."

But this vision almost went unexpressed, as for ten minutes King read from notes penned by an aide. With eyes cast down, he read academic words about "a bad check, a promissory note that America defaulted on."

Then, as the speech lumbered on, a solitary voice spoke out. Standing behind King on the podium was gospel singer and longtime friend, Mahalia Jackson. Masked by a burst of applause, she called out to King, urging him “tell them about the dream, Martin!”

King paused, set his notes aside and began again, speaking this time from his heart.

The power and inspiration of that I Have a Dream speech is a cornerstone of our history and speaks to the hope of our future. We know King's dream because one woman had the courage to speak up, and because on that August day in our nation's capital, King set aside a prepared script and described a truly great America in words that would enter the American lexicon.

Curiously, perhaps the most memorable – and often quoted – part of the speech about his four little children being judged not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…” amounts to only one hundred and thirty five characters, not counting spaces.

Well within Twitter guidelines – and not at all disposable.