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The making of Martin Luther King’s speeches

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MIDWAY through Zora Neale Hurston’s novel of 1939, “Moses, Man of the Mountain”, Moses tells the Israelites that God has finally forced Pharaoh to release them. The people are quiet; but on every mind are the words, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty I’m free at last.”

Hurston was the African-American daughter of a poorly educated Alabama Baptist preacher, but she had studied anthropology at Columbia University. Folk religion shaped her childhood; elite education moulded her career. Twenty-four years after her book was published, at the March on Washington of August 28th 1963, Martin Luther King looked out from the Lincoln Memorial over a sea of oppressed people (the date is incised on the memorial’s marble steps). His speech, with its dream of a post-racial gathering around “the table of brotherhood”, is one of the most celebrated in history. After quoting Isaiah and Amos, Hebrew prophets well acquainted with injustice, he concluded with a crescendo: “Free at last!…Continue reading

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