Obama marks 50th anniversary of King’s ‘dream’ speech

Commemorating one of the 20th century’s greatest addresses, a black president embodies the change the civil rights leader called for. How do speechwriters prepare for such occasions?

For President Obama on Wednesday, it might have seemed that just showing up would be a powerful enough statement. After all, he is the first African-American president, and he stood before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to speak on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Oratory demands words, not just a wave from the podium. So, how do you follow a speech that many consider the greatest of the 20th century? For one thing, don’t try to compete, Obama said beforehand. “Let me just say for the record right now, it won’t be as good as the speech 50 years ago,” Obama said. “I just want to get that out there early.” In his speech, Obama was understated in alluding to his own status as president: “Because they marched, city councils changed, and state legislatures changed, and Congress changed, and, yes, eventually the White House changed.” Twitter chimes in Judging from Twitter, Obama’s words struck a chord with many. One wrote, “Best line from Obama today ‘The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.'” Meteorologist Chuck Bell tweeted:

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