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Professor: MLK speech is a call to change the world

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Peg Winter, who is on the administrative staff of Saint Marys University in Winona, listens to Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech during a program Monday at the university.

WINONA — A Saint Marys University professor on Monday exhorted her students to learn the power of the spoken word from one of the nation's greatest orators -- Dr. Martin Luther King -- and, like King, try to change the world.

"We can and will make change," said Lori Charron from the Department of Theatre and Dance. "Public speaking does that. It can change the world."

Charron was the main speaker at during the university's MLK Day program, which began with the showing of King's "I Have a Dream" speech of August 1963. She wanted students to connect the speech with their own "ability to make change." She wanted to make it applicable to their lives.

Learning why King's speech was so great is not enough, Charron said. She called on students to find out what their passion is and to speak out.

Look at King, she said. He showed "the power and influence of one … We just watched the difference one person can make."


King's speech is one of the most important in the nation's history because of his oratorical ability, she said. He had the speech written out, but the "I have a dream" part was not in it, Charron said. The story is that Mahalia Jackson, who had sung before the speech, called out to him to include that part from a speech she had heard King give before.

King was such a great orator that he could insert that part and make it work, she said. Also, his final words "Free at last! free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" were also extemporaneous, she said. "Dr. King was ready at the right place at the right time," she said.

But Charron went deeper into the speech, telling students and others in the audience at Page Theatre that King relied on persuasion, proof and painting a picture to be effective.

He had to first tell the audience about the hatred and murders, the burning of body and spirit that was going on in the South, she said. He had to persuade them that "flames of withering injustice" were real and hurting both blacks and whites.

"This was an in-your-face, wake-up call to the American people," Charron said.

Next, King had to prove his case for change. He was faced with a difficult mission, because he had to balance the need for change without sounding too aggressive, she said.

Several months before King delivered the speech to about 200,000 people in Washington, D.C., Alabama Gov George Wallace had given a speech declaring ""segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," she said. King's speech was a rebuttal, a rallying cry for the civil rights movement. King also gave that speech to prompt President John F. Kennedy to push the Civil Rights Bill in Congress, she said.

Finally, King had to paint the dream with images of how the dream would look, how white and black, poor and rich, would become one. "With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood," King said.


Lori Charron, a professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Saint Marys University in Winona, talks about Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech Monday. She called on students to learn from King about the power of the spoken word.

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