Monday, January 15, 2007

MLK: very popular, encourages long-windedness

When it comes to getting his due Martin Luther King Jr. -- the only American with his own Federal Holiday* -- takes a back seat to no one. That is why I was surprised to read this headline in today's Washington Post:

Despite Lessons on King, Some Unaware of His Dream.

The article quickly contradicts the headline's implications when it points out that 81 percent of college students do know Martin Luther King Jr. "was expressing hope for 'racial justice and brotherhood' in his historic 'I Have a Dream' speech."

So technically, yes, "some" Americans are unaware of MLK's dream. But a little perspective is needed:

57 % of Americans know the story of George Washington and the cherry tree.
45 % of Americans know "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is from the Declaration of Independence.
42 % of American can name one or more of the federal cabinet departments.
10 % of Americans know George Washington was also a Revolutionary War general.

As for the 20 percent who are ignorant of MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech . . . maybe they are same 20 percent who believe the First Amendment protects pet ownership.

I would also suggest that none of these 20 percent were watching CNBC eight hours a day in 2001 and 2002 like I was.

During that time period the French telecommunications giant Alcatel
controversially adopted Martin Luther King and Lou Gehrig as their celebrity spokesmen and ran, for the financial news set, a steady barrage of commercials featuring King and Gehrig's signature speeches.

Because of this, King's "I Have a Dream" and Gehrig's "Farewell to Baseball" (the luckiest man on the face of the earth) have become forever intertwined in my mind. So I've kicked off my MLK day celebrations by reading and listening to the two famous orations.

Both speeches live up to their lofty reputation content-wise. Although, to the modern, secular and not in-the-moment's ear, Reverend King's speech works a lot better as a half-dozen famous quotations than it does as the slowly delivered adjective-fest it becomes in

It should surprise no one who has been reading this blog and has noticed the length of a typical post that I think Gehrig's powerful and thorough -- but short and efficient -- "Farewell to Baseball" is about as great as a speech can be.

Especially when considering the hastily planned ceremony at Yankee Stadium was so emotional the MC announced Gehrig wouldn't be able to make a speech, and Gehrig only did when the crowd unceasingly chanted his name. A progression of events that has helped promote the legend the speech -- which seamlessly acknowledges all the gifts Gehrig just received -- was largely off-the-cuff.

Since the epic, echoing
recording doesn't capture the full text of Gehrig's speech, here is the transcript.

Maybe it's impolite to recognize Lou Gehrig's extemporaneous oratory skills on Martin Luther King Day, but at least King has a day.

For his efforts Gehrig got a terrible disease.

*George Washington might also have a day. There is considerable federal/local dispute as to whether the third Monday in February is called Washington's Birthday and celebrates just George Washington or President's Day and honors all presidents.

No comments: