Throughout history we have examples of people using words to affect great change, and equally those words may indeed have subsequently influenced their successors and descendants.
There is no doubt that some individuals possess the edifying talent of the wisdom of words, enabling them to create a lasting legacy of their spoken words. Their words have impacted those listeners around them and the wider population of the world. They captured the imagination of their listeners, their people, and their countries. The manner in which they delivered their words defined them, and what they said was truly memorable. This article will examine some of the speakers who certainly rocked the world such as:
Martin Luther King;
John F. Kennedy;
Martin Luther King – I have a dream 1963
Martin Luther King rocked the world on 28 August 1963 with his now globally famous 18 minute "I have a dream" speech. Dr. King took the time in crafting and articulating a very powerful message, reaching and resonating very deeply with his audience. Martin Luther King did not simply read the words he had prepared, he literally gave them life.
His speech was composed after several versions of the I have a Dream speech had been created, delivered to other audiences and re-worked into the version we all recognise and admire today. It is not well known that Dr. King was assisted by two other parties, namely Stanley Levison and Clarence Benjamin Jones, who worked together in Riverdale, New York to compose the inspirational speech. The final version was only completed some twelve hours before Martin Luther King took to the stage at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
Many have wondered why this speech was so impactful to so many, and the truth may lie in the fact that it combined so many relevant matters, namely the proposed amendments to civil rights legislation by then President John F. Kennedy ("JFK"), the personal experiences of so many and the ministerial skills of oration, which pulled together powerful imagery of the past, present and future. Even the fact, it was delivered at the Lincoln Memorial and included some of the famous Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln on 19 November 1863. There is no doubt that the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was certainly a ground-breaking event for equality and racial discrimination. Famous speechwriter, Anthony Trendl, perfectly sums up why this speech was so edifying:
"The right man delivered the right words to the right people in the right place at the right time."
The speech was provocative and powerful, yet at the same time full of hope, peaceful and full of creative protest without violence. This educative delivery of some harsh truths did mark a turning point. The world witnessed a new spiritual and intellectual form of militancy. Dr. King was able to touch people's minds and hearts through his visionary words of wisdom. The speech not only addressed the past, and those present but also future generations as to how unity ought to play out, as the future of all is intertwined.
I have listed below some of those poignant statements within the address:
"..Instead of honouring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds."
"We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt."
"We refuse to believe there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation..."
"..a cheque that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.."
"Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy, now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.."
"...the crooked places will be made straight.."
"..a symphony of brotherhood.."
"Now is the time is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children..."
"...as many of our white brothers as evidenced by their presence here today have come to realise that their destiny is tied up with our destiny."
"We can never be satisfied."
"Let freedom ring."
"It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.'
"Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last."
"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 was named Man of the Year by Time Magazine in 1963 and later received the Nobel Peace Prize on 14 October 1964. Conversely, the Federal Bureau of Investigation viewed Dr. King as "the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation", given the influence he had demonstrated amongst people of colour.
Did we learn from this educative address?
Clearly, this March and speech made the path clear for JFK to lay in place his civil rights reforms, and ended years of visible oppression and division between the races. However, and rather disappointingly we still have inequality on many levels in our society. Even on fundamental levels of health and education, it is ever becoming the case that mobility within the classes is a complex, challenging struggle.
The world is ever more divided as we see conflicts driven by inequality and injustice. These problems are likely to worsen as wealth distribution remains with the minority elite, who are unlikely to want to share, or even "play fairly' with the mass population.
Rather concerning is the fact that justice is becoming more elusive to anyone at the lower end of the spectrum. It should be noted that the lower end of the spectrum is also shifting, to include people who would normally have enjoyed a relatively high standard of living. A great example is the economic inability to challenge inequality and injustice. The United Kingdom has seen many legislative changes to bankrupt the bank of justice, where legal aid is unavailable for domestic violence unless is quite particular instances, where no funding is available for employment issues and access to justice can be at the discretion of the State selecting that representation.
We are seeing increased racial issues around the globe, be it with the rise of supremacist political parties in Europe along with intolerance and indifference towards refugees. This reminds me of the line from the speech about "..their destiny is tied up with our destiny." Taking a step outside the bubble, it is evident that these difficulties have been caused by political involvement and wars in those regions. Therefore, we see how that statement has great relevance.
Fifty-four years have nearly passed since the address in 1963, and I have to sadly concur that those inspirational words have not been enacted. Arguably, the main population probably do realise that the matters raised in the speech are highly relevant; however it is perhaps those who control by employing division to rule without mentality, who deliberately ignore this wisdom from the past.
Historically, there has always been a move to silence those with great influence on the population. Socrates was indeed a victim of his own vision, as he offended the government as they felt his power might ultimately lead to revolution against them.
Socrates delivered a powerful speech at his trial in 399 BC, yet this would not ultimately save him, as he was found guilty and executed by drinking poison in the form of hemlock. Being loyal to civic law, Socrates committed suicide by knowingly drinking the poison. He was seventy years old at the time of his execution, which shows how concerned the authorities were, given his likely soon expiration of life expectancy.
His principle accusers were Lycon, Anytus and Meletus who represented the interests of the politicians, scholars, poets and others. He was charged with two offences, namely impiety against the Pantheon of Athens (or offending the gods), and subversive behaviour in corrupting the minds of the youth. The latter referred simply to showing the youth to question what they perceived to be true, to interrogate and find their own answers even where belief in the Gods was concerned. He had empowered the youth to understand that no one has authority over you unless you grant them that authority. Indeed, he showed the youth to not be phased by authority, particularly in the form of government.
Socrates when facing charges of corrupting youth, delivered a moving speech to a male-dominant jury in Athens. Although this did not prove successful for his defence as he ended up being convicted by his peers, arguably he achieved something more. His skilful and masterful piece of rhetoric, the Apology of 4th Century BC has ever since propelled philosophy.
Is Philosophy Dangerous?
Well, although it may not seem so on the surface, maybe there is merit in this statement to those who wish to retain power and control for themselves. We have all heard the expression 'the hand that rocks the cradle, is the hand that rules the world.' It is perhaps the fear that someone can influence future generations that is the fear of these individuals.
Philosophy is rarely taught as part of the curriculum, whereas this is the very essence of all understanding to know who you are and your potential contribution to the world, including how to question to gain those answers. Yet, children are not taught this essential ingredient to their being; and only likely learn if they are part of the privileged few. Maybe the lead question offers an ubiquitous answer.
Referring to current affairs in the world, we have seen Jeremy Corbyn, a Labour Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, completely mobilize the youth with the help of the Momentum Movement. Whilst this has not yet had any lasting political impact, we are seeing the reverberations within the government as they now fear this movement. Why? Well, it is clear that youth represents longevity of change, so whilst they remained apathetic to politics, there was no danger to the ruling party.
The Suffragettes movement started off as a relatively peaceful movement. It was not until 1905 that the Suffragettes organisation created a major stir when Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst interrupted a Manchester political meeting to ask two Liberal politicians, Sir Edward Grey and Winston Churchill if they believed that women ought to get the right to participate in elections through the vote. The incident turned nasty after the two ladies resisted arrest and were roughed up by the police. The police had restrained Pankhurst by her arms, to which she responded by spitting at them. The newsworthy incident was reported by the Press. Christabel Pankhurst justified her actions, which were deemed militancy, as being self-defence. She later wrote:
"Where peaceful means had failed, one act of militancy succeeded and never again was the cause ignored by that or any other newspaper."
Christabel Harriet Pankhurst was the eldest daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and Richard Marsden Pankhurst, who was himself a lawyer. Christabel was later to become a lawyer herself, and with her progressive family pushed for the Sex Disqualification Act of 1919 in the United Kingdom. Remarkably and perhaps as a reminder of how challenging things were for women, Christabel despite qualifying as a solicitor, had been unable to practise law as a female. Emmeline and her daughter, Christabel founded the Women's Social and Political Union in 1903, which would later be a stepping stone for her running as a candidate for parliament.
Although a departure from the non-violent protest inspired by Martin Luther King, can only be explained by the frustration of women. Bear in mind that Christabel Pankhurst was probably only able to even study law because of her family status. It is a stark reminder of the inequalities that have returned, or maybe still exist in our world at large.
The 'Freedom or Death' speech delivered by Emmeline Pankhurst on 13 November 1913 in Hartford, Connecticut, was a defining moment for the equality of women. The speech spoke of the inequality between men and women, the ability to challenge, the utter frustration of suffrage and determination to succeed even potentially at the expense of life.
Some similarities appear in the text that she uttered, namely:
"I am not only here as a soldier temporarily absent from the field at battle; I am here - and that, I think, is the strangest part of my coming - I am here as a person who, according to the law courts of my country, it has been decided, is of no value to the community at all; and I am adjudged because of my life to be a dangerous person, under sentence of penal servitude in a convict prison.""We women, in trying to make our case clear, always have to make as part of our argument, and urge upon men in our audience the fact - a very simple fact - that women are human beings.""We wear no mark; we belong to every class; we permeate every class of the community from the highest to the lowest; and so you see in the woman's civil war the dear men of my country are discovering it is absolutely impossible to deal with it: you cannot locate it, and you cannot stop it."
"As long as women consent to be unjustly governed, they can be, but directly women say: "We withhold our consent, we will not be governed any longer so long as that government is unjust."
"The first people who were put out of a political meeting for asking questions, were women; they were brutally ill-used; they found themselves in jail before 24 hours had expired."
"Now, I ask you, if women can do that, is there any limit to what we can do except the limit we put upon ourselves?"
"No power on earth can govern a human being, however feeble, who withholds his or her consent."
"I have seen men smile when they heard the words "hunger strike", and yet I think there are very few men today who would be prepared to adopt a "hunger strike" for any cause. It is only people who feel an intolerable sense of oppression who would adopt a means of that kind. It means you refuse food until you are at death's door, and then the authorities have to choose between letting you die, and letting you go; and then they let the women go."
"Women are very slow to rouse, but once they are aroused, once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way; it is impossible."
These statements ring out with many truths and resonate the sentiments of the earlier speeches. Emmeline Pankhurst had already been imprisoned four times, and yet passionately delivered the wisdom behind this speech of equality for women.
It should be noted that at this time, such actions were unheard of. Usually, public speakers were listened to courteously in silence even when you disagreed with what they had to say. Due to the bravery and daring of the suffragettes, Parliament enacted the Representation of the People Act in 1919.
Why do women matter in our society?
Any society which aspires to be great, must not leave any citizens behind, especially when considering the opposite genes. Both males and females are a requisite of society, both contributing equally to its balanced growth and prosperity. Humanity has both sexes to ensure this balance, ignorance of any part of our existence could lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it.
This speech in the midst of the Second World War by Winston Churchill was extremely powerful as orated to the audience of students at the Harrow School on 29 October 1941. Although the speech was largely about the nation’s progress in the initial ten months of the on-going war, one clear message clearly shines through - "Never give in". Churchill picked his key message, kept on repeating it over and over again. He made sure that his listeners understood exactly what he had to say. Inspiration was his goal and this was achieved with great success.
This is that most poignant line from that address:
"..never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.."
Apathy versus Tenacity?
We are in sterner times, to which Churchill referred, is a great reference to the current day. He had asked permission of the Head of the Harrow School to change the previous reference to "darker times". This was a great move, as the imagery of dark times, often leaves individuals with a sense of hopelessness, and resolved to their downtrodden fate. The reference to stern almost gives an image of a grimacing face, which you can change to a smile, or break as a strict rule.
It is often the case that the sheer willpower of people is obliterated by oppression or overarching problems. This speech encourages hope and invigorates strength. This speech remains truly inspirational, and may assist the many facing relentless challenges in the world today, be it - poverty, unemployment, homelessness, illness, injustice, inequality or political repression.
John F. Kennedy worked really hard to become the great public speaker he was, given his previous nervousness over public speaking. Today just over half a century since his 1961 inaugural speech, JFK he is fondly remembered across the globe for his famous rhetoric statements. The most enduring one being:
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
The Kennedy address on 11 June 1963 after the Alabama University incident, was profound in the moral truths it laid bare before the American, and in fact all people of the world. These two lines are particularly poignant:
"This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished, when the rights of one man are threatened."
"The constitution should be colour-blind."
Sadly this was not to end the racial discourse as Medger Evers was shot in Jackson, Mississippi later that night.
What difference did Kennedy make?
The answer is that John F. Kennedy was the catalyst to change in the United States of America. He was dangerous as his voice had influence, and had started ripples in the political system, an awakening that change was imperative to ensure calm within the nation. Moreover, Kennedy knew that this was the only right solution, which is probably why his life was cut short as he no doubt would have completed many changes to change American politics forever. This, as we have seen with later presidents is not something welcomed by the Deep State. Kennedy was the president who had essentially validated the civil rights movement.
Taking this one step further to the current day, Kennedy's views were so accurate, with many examples in the world. He was a clear visionary to the fact that inequality affects everyone in a society. His statement has echoes of "Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno", or "All for one, and one for all" , which is the motto for The Three Musketeers in the Alexandre Dumas novel of 1844. This situation is being played out on a grand scale throughout the world, as inequality increases. The question unanswered is to how soon the population realises that global equality is the answer, with schemes like the living wage initiative.
The speech by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the wake of violence against the civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama in 1965, was a defining speech to call-out racial discrimination. His speech was based on the "We shall overcome" text, which had become synonymous with the movement for equality, and ending the oppression of the black community. The president had aligned himself behind the movement for change, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act on 6 August 1965.
Galvanizing the might of the Office of the President behind the civil rights movement for the first time, had helped to usher in new landmark legislation in the form of the Voting Rights Act.
This line is the one that captured the essence of the need for change:
"There is no moral issue. It is wrong — deadly wrong — to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights. I have not the slightest doubt what will be your answer."
The amazing fact is that some of the above motivational speakers were not naturally endowed with extraordinary powers of persuasion or charisma. Instead, they achieved what they did through plenty of practice and the use of clever speaking techniques. But today, many years later their motivational words of wisdom bring inspiration, and are still helping to shape our world.
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