Monday, January 17, 2011

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Intellectual Property, and Us

This MLK day, I want to share a public radio broadcast I heard on WWNO Saturday, "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Public Imagination." Its producers at On the Media describe the show as follows:
On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. did what he’d done countless times before, he began building a sermon. And in his sermons King relied on improvisation - drawing on sources and references that were limited only by his imagination and memory. It’s a gift – and a tradition - on full display in the 'I Have A Dream' speech but it’s also in conflict with the intellectual property laws that have been strenuously used by his estate since his death. OTM producer Jamie York speaks with Drew Hansen, Keith Miller, Michael Eric Dyson and Lewis Hyde about King, imagination and the consequences of limiting access to art and ideas.
The show, which I've embedded in this post, is packed with information about how King built his speeches and sermons, borrowing from numerous references and other preachers--a common practice. It's of particular interest to me because I've been studying notions of authors and authorship in rhetoric and writing lately.

NPR has an excellent database of the Civil Rights leader's speeches and its shows about King over the years. Once you get started listening, it's hard to stop.

Also, today sent out a link to to Dr. King's Nobel Peace Prize speech and I thought it was worth sharing. You can listen to the full speech at American Rhetoric and read the transcript.

Over at my Martin Luther King page at, I always see hits go up starting around the beginning of December and continue until mid-April. Many of the visitors are looking for my poem "Remembering a Life," and Google or some other search engine sends them to that page. So, I don't say much new on MLK day usually because I've said what I have to say.


CCGroovy!!! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CCGroovy!!! said...


This is FRESH!!! it's a fresh perspective on e'rrrthang we THOUGHT we knew about MLK.

Have a GREAT Day!!!

msladydeborah said...

As I sat and listened to the commentary on MLK's speeches and sermons, one thought came to mind.

In today's society, he would be tagged for plagerism if he did not openly cite the works that he borrowed from.

Thanks for sharing the other links.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Deborah, some people have tried to tag him with plagiarism. Usually it's a political entity that's anti-Civil Rights trying to smear him by applying academic rules for written discourse to oral speaking and African-American preaching traditions.

However, few speakers stop to cite a source every time they mention or allude to a work. President Barack Obama alludes to King's words sometimes in his speeches, and it would be ludicrous to say he stole the words.

Poets as well allude to other works constantly in poetry. It used to be considered a sign of intellectual literacy.

King also anticipated, as people used to do, that his listeners recognized his references. He knew that they knew he didn't write "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and when they heard him say "Mine have seen the glory" he was quoting "The Battlehymn of the Republic."

We know that if ministers stopped to cite every source that influenced a sermon or even every Bible chapter and verse they mentioned or alluded to in a sermon, the sermon would double in length and people would drop like flies from boredom, which is why I enjoyed that podcast so much. It explains how King's rhetoric worked very well.

Thank you, Deborah. I hope you got a little rest from your classes on this holiday.

@CCGroovy: Thank you for dropping by. :-)