The stirring oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from his ``I Have a Dream'' speech has as much impact today as it had 25 years ago, say two King scholars. ``Dr. King was very much the political animal, acutely aware of politics although he spoke on moral principles and was never allied to any political party,'' says Dr. Stephen Oates of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Professor Oates is the author of ``Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr.''
The Aug. 28, 1963, ``March on Washington'' - which culminated with King's famous speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial - is credited with lighting the spark that led to the passage of federal civil rights and voting rights laws by Congress in 1964 and 1965. (Speech excerpts, Page 4.)
``Dr. King ... had a great sensitivity for story telling,'' says Prof. John Patton of Tulane University, who is completing a biography, ``Martin Luther King Jr. and the Power of the Spoken Word,'' due out next spring. ``He brought ideas alive.... He put thoughts and feelings together in unique combinations of words that people could feel and see.''
The New Coalition of Conscience will honor King Saturday in a 25th-anniversary commemoration of the civil rights gathering. The event has been organized by the three leaders of the New Coalition, Coretta Scott King, the minister's widow; Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, founded by King; and Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Some 200 organizations from around the country are expected to send delegations to the event. Participants will march to the Lincoln Memorial, where a rally will begin at 12:30 p.m.
``It is appropriate to repeat the 1963 march and honor Dr. King in this election year,'' says the Rev. Charles A. Stith of Boston, a mem ber of the national steering committee and president of Organization for a New Equality. ``This is an opportunity for a new generation to be on the cutting edge of progressive change in the '90s.''
Speakers will include Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis; Jesse Jackson; John E. Jacob, president of the National Urban League; Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women; and Owen Bieber, president of the United Auto Workers.
Vice-President George Bush was invited to speak, says Mrs. King, but he will be away from Washington.
In its summons to participants, the New Coalition says that the goal of the anniversary celebration is to focus public attention on the following issues:
Jobs: ``There is a large and growing urban underclass in America, the working poor, principally blacks and Hispanics in the central cities,'' the statement says. ``Their basic need is jobs that can support their families above the poverty level.''
Drugs: The growing internal menace on our streets and in our schools is drug trafficking, the group asserts. ``We call on federal, state, and local governments to conduct a competent and constructive antidrug campaign.''
Freedom: The summons calls for ending apartheid in Southern Africa, boycotting South African products, and working through the United Nations for freedom in Central and Latin America and the Middle East.
Equality: The group urges eliminating discrimination based on gender, race, and ethnic origin, and full implementation of voting rights and civil rights.
``We call upon the new administration to develop a broad nonpartisan coalition to press for legislation and actions to turn this nation around in the areas of jobs, peace with justice, freedom and equality, [and] to implore aggressive nonviolent means to help end apartheid in South Africa,'' the call to march concludes.
``We are concerned about the fruition of Dr. King's dream,'' Dr. Lowery says. ``The dream has been realized in some aspects, but has been deferred in many others.''
Hispanics will join the march, says Eduardo Predomo, president of the Alliance for Latin American Advancement.
`Thank God Almighty, free at last'
Following are excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Aug. 28, 1963:
Fivescore years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.
...But 100 years later, the Negro is still not free; 100 years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination; 100 years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity; 100 years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.
...Even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed - we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by content of their character. I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama ... little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
...When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children ... will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ``Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last.''