It probably puts me at significant risk of losing my American Studies Card to say this—and you have no idea how hard it is to get a second one of those if you lose the first—but I think the “I Have a Dream” speech is kind of overrated. I’m sort of saying that for effect, since I don’t really mean that the speech itself isn’t as eloquent and powerful and pitch-perfect in every way as the narrative goes—it most definitely is, and while that’s true enough if you read the words, it becomes infinitely more true when you see video and thus hear audio of the speech and moment (available at the second link below). But what is overrated, I think, is the weight that has been placed on the speech, the cultural work that it has been asked to do. Partly that has to do with contemporary politics, and especially with those voices who have tried to argue that King’s “content of their character” rather than “color of their skin” distinction means that he would oppose any and all forms of identity politics or affirmative action or the like; such readings tend to forget that King was speaking in that culminating section of the speech about what he dreams might happen “one day”—if, among other things, we give all racial groups the same treatment and opportunities—rather than what he thought was possible in America in the present.
3) OPEN: Any King stories or details you'd add?