Forty years ago on a sweltering August day in Washington, the Baptist preacher and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the defining speech of his generation and the most famous oration of the 20th century. Writing in the New York Times the next day, James Reston promptly recognized King’s achievement and predicted, “It will be a long time before [Washington] forgets the melodious and melancholy voice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. crying out his dreams to the multitude.”
That voice has now become an American institution. And as familiarity with the speech fades to annual invocations of the “Dream,” fading with it is the civic memory of King’s uncompromising critique of the injustice that made the dream necessary.