My original research began with Langston Hughes, the great American poet. And it wasn’t too long before I realized that the next part of the mystery led me to Dr. Martin Luther King, Mr. There are three elements that tie Langston Hughes, iconic African-American poet and the man whose words captured the emotions and struggles of the American Civil Rights Movement, and Dr. Martin Luther King, American minister, freedom fighter and international leader of the American Civil Rights Movement. I was able to shed light on the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr. was not only a minister, he had a deep respect for literature and was deeply influenced by it.
Poetry is where memory breathes and it’s very clear that Martin Luther King, Jr. elected to include stylistic elements of poetry in his sermons and speeches. I noticed it first in looking at his own literature collection. He had books by Emily Dickinson and Josiah Holland. He had chosen to write down the page numbers of his favorite poems in the front of one of his books. In most of these poems, I noticed that MLK liked the endings, he liked the dramatic punches. No one had looked through these resources and paid attention to MLK’s love of literature.
One can see in his notecards that he had a personal affinity for literature and he often knew if better than he did the Biblical scriptures. He especially loved Psalms and Proverbs. MLK was poetic from the beginning and this fresh insight brings a new element to him as a person.
MLK and Hughes knew each other and Hughes had a deep impact on MLK and ultimately the creation of the “I Have a Dream Speech.” Hughes had written a poem called, “The Birth of a New Nation” or “Remaining Aware in The New Revolution” in 1956. Later he wrote, “I Dream A World” in 1941. There was a very special cadence and rhythm to it.
To many, Hughes was the poet of the Civil Rights Movement. Coretta Scott King, King’s wife, was a tremendous fan of Hughes and her deep appreciation influenced King.
In 1957, Hughes would write a poem about the Montgomery Bus Boycott called “Brotherly Love” and King acknowledged by it.
In August 1962, King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in Rocky Mount, NC. Yes, he tried it out here first.
In November 1963, King gave what most people know as his only “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC.
Hughes never did receive any royalties from King and Hughes did indeed believe that King had used his ideas. I believe on one hand, he felt conflicted because he knew his work was being used, but he also knew that MLK and himself were men who thought alike. Of course he would have wanted to have been recognized, but he was recognized by many as the poet of a movement.
Discovering the First “I Have A Dream Speech” and Its Legacy
Discovering the speech was incredible. History is kind of like a spring that lays on its side. It reverberates forward and then reaches back.
We are now working on a movie, “Origin of the Dream” about the speech and its legacy. Danny Glover is helping us as a narrator. It’s fascinating to see and hear what became of people after their heard this speech. It was defining for people. I have met people who have heard it and to see their faces again when they heard the speech is indescribable. People are still able to recognize injustice and King’s speech still helps us connect those ideas.
What’s interesting about documentaries is that they provide a safe space to talk about difficult subjects. Collectively, people can project their experiences and talk about the movie when in fact, they are actually talking about life.
Discovering Langston Hughes and Dr. Martin Luther King and the world-wide interest in them was like me, writing facing a wall and then I turned around and there was a stadium filled with people who were interested in the same issues, just like me.
As King said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”