Today is the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the Washington, D.C. Mall to more than 250,000 in attendance. It was then one of the rare nationally television speeches. (Nowadays, CNN will spend days reporting “live” from an ice storm.)
Dr. King’s oratory is often considered among the greatest American speeches. A number of oratory aficionados, critics and The Buckley School consider the “Dream” speech at the top or among the top five. Dr. King’s speech called for an end to racism in the U.S. He was named Time’s “Person of the Year” in 1963 and won the Nobel Prize for peace in 1964. He was assassinated in 1968.
Other top speeches that inspired, say critics/experts:
• “The Gettysburg Address,” President Abraham Lincoln, 1863.
• “Ask Not,” President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, 1961.
• “Fear,” President Franklin Roosevelt’s inaugural address, 1933.
• “Infamy,” President Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor address to the nation, 1941.
• “Tear Down This Wall,” President Ronald Reagan, 1987.
• “Farewell Address,” Lou Gehrig, 1939.
• “I Will Fight No More Forever,” Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, 1877.
One surprise among the top speeches were two by former Texas congressman Barbara Jordan; the keynote speech she gave at the 1976 Democratic National Convention and her remarks during the impeachment proceedings in the House against President Richard Nixon in 1974. Ms. Jordan died in 1996 after a distinguished career in law, politics and academia.
The Buckley School of Camden, S.C., features speech giving as a component of its curriculum. It was founded by author/columnist/orator Reid Buckley, who still teaches and relishes the forensic fireworks of its students. (I’m a graduate and veteran of several alumni debates and meetings.) One frequent visitor to the school was Reid’s older brother, William F. Buckley. To see these two accomplished brothers go at it forensically was always a treat; then, they switched sides (taking the opposing view) and had another round of lively debate, always with humor. The Buckley School also has course study in writing, organizational skills and other management techniques. The dinners, team/group study, and discussion of politics and society are bonuses. Syndicated columnist/commentator Kathleen Parker is also a member of the Buckley faculty. John Rotellini of Sheridan is also a Buckley grad.
Man in the Arena
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause. And who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
— President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), in a speech at The Sorbonne, Paris, 1907.