Have you wondered why you don’t hear Martin Luther King’s speech much on the airwaves?
It is the time of year when students are taught about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, so passionately delivered that his call for freedom changed U.S. history. Once heard, it is impossible to forget.
But many students won’t get to hear it — and most who do will hear only snippets, educators and historians said. And that, they said, is affecting the legacy of the preeminent civil rights leader, whose life will be honored tomorrow with an annual federal holiday.
“It lessens the historical saliency of King for younger kids,” said Robert Brown, assistant dean of undergraduate education at Emory University in Atlanta who specializes in African American politics. “It is one thing to read King and another to see him. Hearing him is so much more powerful than reading it.”
All of King’s speeches and papers are owned by his family, which has gone to court several times since the 1990s to protect its copyright; King obtained rights to his most famous speech a month after he gave it. Now, those who want to hear or use the speech in its entirety must buy a copy sanctioned by the King family, which receives the proceeds.
Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute and a history professor at Stanford University, said the institute “would like to make it as widely available as possible. However, I respect the King family’s point of view that this is private property and there has to be a balancing of the public need versus the family need.”
When King was killed, his family was left without much money. The family earns income from licensing his image and charging fees for the use of his speeches. Some of his papers are free for researchers to look through. The King family did not respond to queries for this article.
Joseph Beck, an attorney for the King family and an expert in intellectual property rights, said, “The King family has always supported providing access to the speech and to the video for educational purchases and encourages interested persons to contact the King Center in Atlanta.” According to the family’s Web site, videotapes and audiotapes of the speech can be purchased for $10, but one copy often is not enough for an entire school, and many schools don’t know what materials are available.
Many schools use the text — often taken in violation of the copyright from the Internet. The King family, however, wants teachers to use the speech and has not pursued legal action against educators, Carson said.
Critics of the King family’s decision not to put the speech in the public domain say the poorest children are the most deprived.
I had no clue.