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Shaking the rafters

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I remember standing somewhere near the reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial on a hot August day listening to Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech echoing through the Mall.

It was the 20th anniversary of that day in 1963 when the world got its clearest glimpse to date of the essence of the man and the truths he shared with us all--truths that still had the power to stir souls and cause those gathered to stop and listen.

It is a stunning experience, and a strangely personal one, to stand among a half-million people who suddenly go silent and still. For many of us it was the biggest crowd we'd ever seen or may ever see, and yet for those few minutes--a speech in a day of speeches--we were all alone with our thoughts.

Since that day, I've been to a couple of dozen commemorations of the life and work of King and heard his name invoked and his words quoted in all kinds of circumstances. But there is still nothing like hearing the way he spoke truth to power--the cadence of his voice, the grace mixed with fury.

My fear is that as we move further past those days his voice will begin to fade and there will be millions who only know him as the namesake of another Monday holiday--millions who have never heard the rafters shake and because of that believe they never will.

For a listing of events celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, see Spectator on page 33. You can hear excerpts of Martin Luther King's speech at Duke Chapel online at www.dukenews.duke.edu/mmedia/features/mlk06/audio06.html. King's 1958 speech at Greensboro's Bennett College is also online at www.npr.org/ templates/story/story.php?storyId=1046058. The "I Have a Dream" speech is available in its entirety at www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/Ihaveadream.htm .

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