Delmont urged the audience to engage with the texts in their entirety — not just as memes and soundbites. Because King’s writing was intended to be delivered as sermons and speeches, extracting quotes from the larger context of his work limits our ability to understand the depth and history of his role as leader in a very long and hard-fought movement for civil rights.

Delmont described King as an effective and forward-looking leader, explaining that he was unencumbered by the short-term demands of elected public office and unrestricted by party lines. Rather than thinking in term limits, he asked his congregations and the millions of people he helped to mobilize, "Where will we be generations from now?"

Although King is arguably the most recognizable face of the civil rights movement, Delmont cautioned against honoring his legacy as an individual at the expense of recognizing the long grassroots civil rights movement that elevated him, noting that while he is an extremely important figure, a day to honor his memory would be incomplete without remembering the 250,000 black people who made their way to the Lincoln Memorial to see him speak, and the thousands of others who fought for decades to bring the movement to a head.

Delmont reminded the audience, "it’s not about him, it's about we."

 If you are interested in arranging a presentation of these or other archived texts, or you would like to schedule an appointment to view the texts, email

Ty Fishkind

Communications specialist, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership