This Train Rides Again/ I Have A Dream

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The Martin Luther King Collection

BBC Radio 4, 24, 28 August 2013
As part of a season of programmes celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, the BBC ran two documentaries which, although not dramas per se, could nonetheless be viewed as dramatic essays.
This Train Rides Again had actor/director Kwame Kwei-Armah retracing the train journey made from Chicago to Washington by African-Americans travelling to the March (where King's speech was the culmination of the afternoon's events).  On the way he met several people who had embarked on the journey half a century earlier, as well as talking to other passengers (including an affable sleeping car porter) about the implications of the March on American history.
Kwei-Armah's narrative was intercut with extracts from journalist Studs Terkel's original broadcast ("The Tran") from 1963, where he accompanied the African Americans on their travels.  A dedicated civil rights activist, Terkel's interviews were both sympathetic and revealing, showing the sufferings experienced on a daily basis by most African-Americans in a rigidly segregated society.
On one level, This Train Rides Again proved a voyage of discovery for Kwei-Armah, as he found just how much effort went into organizing the March, and how it was a basically peaceful occasion, despite the FBI's fears that it would descend into anarchy.  On another level, however, his retracing of Terkel's journey revealed just how much more work needs to be done to secure equal rights in the contemporary United States.  African-Americans are still consigned to dead-end jobs, while recent events have shown that racism is still endemic in some areas of American society.
I Have a Dream celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King's speech by having his speech read out by a series guest speakers, all of whom had been involved in some way in the struggle for freedom and equal rights.  They included Maya Angelou, Doreen Lawrence - mother of murdered African-Caribbean British teenager Stephen Lawrence - the Dalai Lama, Mary Robinson (the former UN Commissioner for Human Rights), the anti-apartheid campaigner Albie Sachs, Ndileka Mandela - granddaughter of Nelson Mandela - and Malala Yousafzai, the sixteen-year-old student shot by the Taliban on her way to school.
The readings were all deeply felt, and it was touching to listen to the different types of tone and stress adopted.  The speech was book-ended by extracts from King's original recordings, delivered on 28 March 1963, emphasizing the importance of what he had to say.  Despite numerous advances in the areas of human rights, his dream has yet to be achieved.