Hateful Language Discovered In Rev. King's 'I Have a Dream' Speech
The speech for which the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is best known has come under scrutiny upon the discovery of some language that many consider to be "hateful" and "degrading".
From the second line of the speech -- wherein King mentions "Negro slaves" -- to the closing hymn, the words "negro", "nigra" and derivations thereof are used no less than 15 times, making the speech one of the most hateful and racist documents since the Three Fifths Compromise, say scholars.
Initially, the 40th anniversary of King's death inspired many to reflect on the current state of civil rights; now, scholars and political commentators are decrying King's famous speech for irritating wounds from America's tumultuous past that have yet to heal.
"It has been over 45 years and we are still forcing school children to read from a document that uses such spiteful terminology as 'negro', which is almost the n-word," said the Reverend Al Sharpton at a memorial for Reverend King in Memphis last week. "It's hateful speeches like King's that keep his dream of equality for all from becoming a reality."
"How can a speech that contains such provocative and ignorant language be valid, no matter what its message is?" demanded Lakesha Wayman of the Philadelphia ACLU chapter. "It encourages children to speak in a way that marginalizes a whole race, and has no place in the modern-day discussion on race relations and civil rights."
"It really does contain a wonderful message about brotherhood, equality and freedom of speech, but it gives the wrong impression to repeat so often a word that starts with 'n' and refers to African-Americans," said Nancy Broden of the Schaumberg, IL PTA. "There was a time when that sort of verbiage was commonplace, but it might give today's kids the wrong idea, like listening to 2 Live Crew."
Proponents of the speech argue that the speech, despite the use of language now considered old-fashioned at best and odious at worst, still deserves to be part of every child's education, so that they know who said "I Have A Dream" in case they are ever on a quiz-based reality show of some sort. Others, closer to the middle of the argument, have acquiesced to removing all uses of the word "negro" and its variations, and replacing it with "n-[explicative]" or "persons of the dark persuasion" in any printed texts of King's pontification.
Although disappointed in the speech's language, Nancy Broden says that she would accept the compromise of sanitizing the speech by removing only the sentences with hateful words and leaving the rest for children to study and learn, akin to the necessary censorship of classics like The Adventures of Huck Finn, which contained what many considered an inappropriate categorization of a black man as an n-word.
"To be completely safe, it may be better to remove all references to black people altogether from King's speech," she added. "White people have gone through most of those hardships as well, anyway."
Historians and legal experts expressed disbelief over the amount of time it took for the incendiary language in King’s irenic and inspiring speech to be discovered, but have agreed that, in hindsight, "King was probably a closet racist," as said by sociology professor Arnold Harmon of the University of Oregon.
"To hear King speak like that just makes one ashamed of humanity," he said. "It's ironic that such a prominent civil rights leader could also be a crazy hater of black people."