Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and The Public Imagination

Friday, January 18, 2013


On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. did what he’d done countless times before: he began building a sermon. And in his sermons King relied on improvisation, drawing on sources and references that were limited only by his imagination and memory. It’s a gift — and a tradition — on full display in the "I Have A Dream" speech, but it’s also in conflict with the intellectual property laws that have been strenuously used by his estate since his death. In a segment originally aired in 2011, OTM producer Jamie York speaks with Drew HansenKeith MillerMichael Eric Dyson and Lewis Hyde about King, imagination and the consequences of limiting access to art and ideas.

Charles Mingus - Prayer for Passive Resistance (Live at Antibes)


Michael Eric Dyson, Drew Hansen, Lewis Hyde and Keith Miller

Produced by:

Jamie York

Comments [3]

Dr. Jim Vickrey from Montgomery, AL

The King Family's continued effort to raise money off of video recordings of a PUBLIC speech, indeed, THE greatest public speech of the 20th century, according to one national poll of rhetoricians in 1999, has been irritating and is most unseemly, especially given its source and historical importance. The effort has mostly kept good copies of "I Have a Dream [That One Day Right Here in America Citizens Will Be Able to Listen to the Speech on Multiple Devices at Their Pleasure, without Having to Pay an Exhorbitant Price for the Privilege of Doing So (see the Kennedy Family's Practice for Doing the Same for Instruction)]" from being readily available to all, in particular, to the very citizens Dr. King fought for and which his legacy, memorialized at the King Center and in the hearts of the King Family and the rest of us, I thought, was trying to make easier, not harder!

I have a reel to reel tape I made of his last sermon at King Memorial [Baptist?] Dexter Church here in Montgomery on its 100rd Anniversary, at which he spoke to a packed congregation in 1968, about a month before his murder in Memphis, after which I finally met him and his entire family. Does the King Family plan to highjack me, too, by claiming the right to control its access and charge for my or anyone else's listening to it?
(I was the only white person on the ground floor and appear in some old civil rights film footage once shared with me.)

A lawyer but not an Intellectual Property one, as well as a university professor of speech communicaiton, I don't think it's fair for one entiry or person to be allowed to claim ownership over the recording of a public event, beyond his/her or its possession of specified recordings made by or sold to or granted to same legally; the copies made on the scene ought to belong to the ones making the copies unless, of course, their making violated some explicit notice made publicly, and included in the program distributed that day, prohibiting same, which, as far as I know, was not the case that hot, August day in 1963. (It is well understood that an entertainer can prohibit and back up legally the making of recordings of any sort during a paid performance by the artist and programs always put the public on notice of the restriction. But ... A PUBLIC SPEECH AT THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL IN WASHINGTON, D.C. AT A CIVIL RIGHTS RALLY WITH A POLITICAL PURPPOSE?


Dr. Jim Vickrey, Ph.D., J.D.
Montgomery, AL



Jan. 20 2013 10:24 PM
Anne McRae Wrede from Swedesboro, NJ

As a preacher with 25 years experience I can truthfully say that many times, while preaching a sermon that I have studied for; agonized over; gone back to the biblical sources for; gleaned through all that has ever been said before, rewritten over and over; hoped for and prayed for, I started out in the pulpit not knowing what, in the name of God, I did all that work for.

Then, at the sight or silent urging of a few certain people I may not even know, some uncontrollable power we call the Holy Spirit comes over me and the sermon takes off in a new inspired direction beyond all that I could imagine or work for. The sermon ends up preaching me and the people who needed to hear it. Lives are changed. Thanks be to God.

Yet this is not even the wonder of it all. For I have personally heard of this happening in the work of artists, writers, composers, editors, performers, journalists, scientists, medical professionals, mystics, and even custodians and snow plow drivers. It happens through people of faith and hope in all walks of life though out all history. The Holy Spirit of God: of Life, Truth, Beauty, Wisdom, and Grace,can and will eventually inspire every working soul. The Spirit takes over. The work ends up working us. You can copyright it all you want. But it will just go leak out in some other form, place or culture.

" borrowing" from a prophet of over 2500 years ago, and one on whom Dr. King leaned heavily on:
" [... thus says The Lord ...:]
For as rain and snow fall from the heavens
and return not again, but water the earth,
Bringing forth life and giving growth,
seed for sowing and bread for eating,
So is my word that goes forth from my mouth;
it will not return to me empty;
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,
and prosper in that for which I sent it. " Isaiah 55: 9-12

Jan. 20 2013 02:50 PM
Ramesh from NY

Nation honors by dedicating a day for MLK but the speech so much associated with MLK is not a private property. This public and private contradiction has been hard for me to ignore since I heard about this news few months ago. It is like individual's will over rules nations will.

AFAIK none of the speeches of Gandhi has been patented. Will the film maker have to pay MLK family for the right to make movie?

Jan. 20 2013 12:26 AM

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