Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

August 29, 2013

50-year old speech still inspires today

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Many believe the true tragedy of any slain community leader is his or her irreplaceable nature.

It was certainly the case for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who was assassinated in Mem-phis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968.

And many Jackson-ville residents would argue it also was true for city employee Stacy Hunter, a beloved community figure shot and killed during a robbery in October.

For many, Hunter's death punched a hole through the Jacksonville community fabric. It was during the January march celebrating Dr. King's life that the loss of Stacy Hunter was discussed at length.

“I know Stacy will be greatly missed – he really gave us hope,” lamented A.J. Rhodes, who organized the march. “I don't know what we'll do if there is no one who can take his place.”

These words also were said – more or less – about Dr. King.

Fifty years ago Wednesday, Dr. King delivered his iconic “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

He made history with the sentiments and observations voiced as part of the March on Washington speech.

As a matter of fact, Dr. King's famous words echo to this day – often during church services or public gatherings throughout the United States.

Although Dr. King's voice could not literally be heard by those in the church, his words nonetheless boomed and echoed throughout Sweet Union Baptist Church during the MLK service back in January.

The services in honor of Dr. King  included interpretive dances, speeches recited by children, and many songs.

This January, however, instead of the  “I have a dream” speech, Minister Jason People with Church Hill CME instead read from King's dramatic life-or-death oratory, “If I had sneezed.”

This particular account went into great detail about Dr. King was ambushed and stabbed in public and nearly died from his knife wounds.

It was theorized that had Dr. King sneezed, he would have passed away despite the ongoing medical care.

Fortunately for Dr. King – and, of course, for history – he didn't sneeze.

Dr. King's “I have a dream” speech is considered a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement.

It's been ranked the top American speech of the 20th century in a 1999 poll of scholars of public address.

It is certainly a speech that Caesar Roy, a veteran member of the Cherokee County Democratic Party, will never forget.

Roy said he wasn't at the march but kept track of it as best he could.

“I guess at the time 50 years ago, I was 29,” Roy said. “I was overwhelmed by the speech. Not just the speech itself but the whole concept of people of different colors – although primarily black – coming together. At the time we were a country in which discrimination was prevalent and states supported it. It certainly was that way in Texas."

Roy also was astonished back then at the sheer amount of people who turned out for the March on Washington.

“To this day, that was the most impressive to me,” Roy said. “In those times and during that march, the people who were predominantly black were interested enough to go to Washington and participate in a march. I have often regretted that I didn't go.”