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Lincoln Presidential Museum breathes new life into Martin Luther King Jr. speeches

Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 5:13 PM CST
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QUINCY (WGEM) - The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum commemorated Martin Luther King Day by bringing a new voice to one of his most famous speeches.

The “I Have a Dream” speech was given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963, two centuries after the Emancipation Proclamation. His words are often taught in schools by reading a written version of the speech.

Though not on the steps of the famous Lincoln Memorial, the museum wanted to bring back the cadence and emotion that King portrays by doing a live reading of his original work.

Historical actor Reggie Guyton said he originally began performing on MLK Day a few years ago. He said there was a desire to hear King’s words during a time where civil unrest was growing in connection to police brutality and voting rights issues.

Hearing the speech aloud, Guyton said, brings back the sense of urgency and hope that the activist meant to convey. King drew on the emotions and frustrations surrounding the injustice of the time. Guyton said he does the same when preparing for his performance.

“Each year that I do it it hits me a little bit differently, with us having the recent verdicts from George Floyd’s case and Ahmaud Arbery’s case, it hits a little bit differently because we’re still dealing with the emotional scars of not just today, but of the 60s and the 70s.” Guyton said. “I take that into consideration whenever I read this, but I try not to let it overcome me too much because I want to make sure it’s an accurate depiction.”

While “I Have a Dream” is one of King’s most famous speeches, it’s far form his only one. Executive Director of ALPLM Christiana Schutt studied King’s writings as an archivist with the Martin Luther King Papers Project at Boston University before becoming director. Both she and Guyton encourage the public to look into the other works of King. Though less popular, they believe they still contain important ideas.

“He wasn’t just writing as a one-off thing,” Schutt said. “He’s exploring these topics at a deeper and greater level.”

Schutt said King challenges those in the modern day to consider injustice in their lives and find a way to change it. She also said amongst the challenges King poses to the world, he also provides her a sense of comfort when she sees injustice in the world.

In a sermon delivered during the 381-day long Montgomery bus boycott, King said that no matter how long, justice will come. Schutt said she reminds herself of that sentiment.

“The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice,” Schutt said. “This idea is always something that I come back to frequently. It’s something that always gives me courage and gives me strength. When I think or see the images on TV or on social media of injustice, I can go back to that speech and remind myself. Our job as citizens, as individuals is to step up and help that moral arc bend, to take action.”

Next year will be the 60th anniversary of the speech. As of right now, Schutt said the museum does not have anything special planned, as they have been focusing on upcoming exhibits and Black History Month events.

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