THE BLOG
01/16/2013 04:21 pm ET | Updated Mar 18, 2013

Master of the Sound Bite: Martin Luther King Jr.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!" -- Martin Luther King Jr., Aug. 28, 1963

Martin Luther King Jr., would be 84 years old this week. And it has been almost 50 years since he delivered one of our nation's most iconic speeches, commonly referred to as the, "I have a dream" speech. The title of his speech was not supposed to be, "I have a dream," but rather, "Normalcy, Never Again." In fact, the "I have a dream" portion of Dr. King's speech was improvised! King strayed from the original content in his speech to riff on the American dream as a result of a call from the audience when gospel singer Mahalia Jackson said, "tell them about the dream, Martin!"

And so he did, powerfully and eloquently, and remarkably off the cuff. Dr. King's improvisation, in fact, changed the face of our world and the stature of sound bites forever. Instantly upon hearing the multiple, inspirational sound bites that emanated from this one speech, whether in context or out of context, we instantly know as Americans where they originated, such as, "free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

And, "we shall overcome."

My own, personal favorite sound bite from Dr. King's speech has always been, "America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'"

I grew up in liberal and progressive Los Angeles and my parents agreed with the words of Dr. King, regardless of my family's origin, or the color of our skin. I was not raised to be prejudiced, or to perpetuate stereotypes and was taught to love all human beings, in spite of the world we live in where prejudice exists on a massive scale.

Of all the political speeches delivered over the years in this country I would argue that Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech, given on the Washington Mall in front of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial and 200,000 people, was the most powerful of all, not just because of the setting and the situation, but also because King established himself during this speech as the master of the sound bite. He was a man ahead of his time in that respect too.

In the early 1960s, sound bites were relatively trivial, minus famous quotes of yore, especially in the political arena. Issues mattered more than sound bites in the 1960s (e.g., substance mattered over style), but since King perfected and delivered so many powerful sound bites in this one speech, all of which have withstood the test of time, sound bites have become a huge part of the American lexicon, especially during the debate process inherent in every presidential election.

The most recent presidential election is a perfect example of the evolution of the sound bite, when social media and traditional media became fixated on Big Bird, and binders full of women. Today's sound bites even trump the important topics at hand, especially if that sound bite is a gaffe. Rarely do inspirational sound bites, like the ones spoken by Dr. King, make headlines anymore, which is a shame. Our world is in need of another Dr. King, of someone who can shift the world in its balance over the course of a single speech. His words were timeless. I leave you with a fairly unknown, but powerful sound bite from Dr. King that still rings true today.

"Procrastination is still the thief of time."

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