Years after his death, the ideas of Martin Luther King
Jr. continue to resonate in the American consciousness, as much
because of the way he expressed them as because of what they meant.
That's certainly the case for George D. Arnold, a retired
Manager of Employee Relations for Bendix...For most of the years
since 1968, he has dedicated himself to keeping King's voice alive
by memorizing and reciting his speeches and letters. For Arnold,
King's words remain living texts, not archival exhibits.
George Arnold for your next
event...contact information below.)
| Arnold spends a large amount of his
own time on this personal mission. He has delivered his program,
"Echoes of Dr. King" to more than 1,500 schools, churches and
civic organizations since he has started memorizing the King
texts in 1969.
He has given King's "I Have a
Dream" speech at the dedication of the chapel at Morehouse
College, King's alma mater in Atlanta, and his "I Have Been to
the Mountaintop" address -- King's final public oration -- for
250,000 people in front of the Lincoln memorial at the 20th
anniversary observance of the 1963 March on Washington.
Giving new life to King's words earned a city
recognition day in 1980. It has brought him to the stage of the
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, where he narrated "Legacy of Vision:
Arnold giving a King speech at a
local HS in Beloit, MI -- 1969
|Luther King Jr.," a work for chorus and
orchestra by Jonathan Bruce Brown, for the state observance of
There he stood, in a black
church robe with velvet facings and red crosses, and out rolled
words that blazed across America decades ago: "I have a dream
that 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 the
content of their character..." In Arnold's re-creation, which
sounds uncannily like the voice of King, the message speaks
L to R: Rev. Rideout, Martin
Luther King Sr. ("Daddy King"), Mr. Gilkey, George Arnold --
Sacred Heart Church, University of Notre Dame, 1976.
| Arnold became an ardent
believer during the exciting years of the 1960s, when King
and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference changed the
attitudes and then the laws of the United States, with their
marches, boycotts and protests.
King's assassination, Arnold began to to exercise his memory
by committing to heart King's speeches and writings. He
first tackled the "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," a tract
of more than 7,000 words written when King was imprisoned
for leading a civil rights march to the city hall of
Birmingham, AL, on Good Friday 1963. It has become a seminal
text in the literature of civil disobedience.
Arnold told a friend of this feat of memory, but all he got was a
comment that he must be insane to spend so much time for no
reason at all. But Arnold enjoyed the challenge so much that
he continued to memorize King's words.
now, he estimates that he has about 6 1/2 hours of the
speeches and writings in his head, including all the major
addresses and many of the lesser ones. He is able to draw on
them without so much as a pause for reflection, quoting
paragraphs by heart as easily, and as compellingly, as he
Arnold was born in Indianola, MS, a place
known for two things: as the home of the blues singer B.B.
King and the place where the White Citizens Council, a
strident opponent of integration, was founded.
When he was 4, his family moved to Rockford,
IL, north of Chicago. That was in 1940, when the city was
becoming a hub of tool manufacturing and the government
needed every worker, whatever his or her color, for wartime
production. Arnold remembers few racial incidents in this
integrated town, and he was educated in its excellent public
school system, which he says may account in part for his
George Arnold delivering a King speech at Norte Dame,
In 1954, Arnold says, "Air Force blue looked
pretty good to me." He enlisted, and learned his first
lessons in racial politics taking the train from Chicago to
Greenville, SC, where he was to report to Donaldson Air
In Cincinnati, Arnold -- who was
in the blue uniform he was so proud to wear -- was told by a
black porter: "Perhaps you'll want to change cars here."
When he failed to understand, the porter said: "Son, this is
there we "change," emphasizing the word so it had
more than one meaning.
When Arnold got to
Greenville and found the bus to the base, he again was told
where to sit. A hamburger joint in the bus station refused
to serve him, and a black Air Force master sergeant finally
took him around the back, where blacks could eat. "I'm doing
this so that you'll continue to live," he told the young
L to R: Dr. Overstreet,
George Arnold, another gentleman, Martin Luther King Sr.
("Daddy King") --
|"You'll say that I learned to be a
jumping jack," Arnold says of his trips off-base into
Greenville. "When white people would come along, I'd
have to jump off the sidewalk to let them pass."
Arnold lives in a two-story brick and clapboard house in
Baltimore....He and his wife Marlon (deceased) have three adult
daughters...The photographs are prominent on Arnold's
bookshelves and coffee table...In his den and library
downstairs, however, the walls are covered with
photographs and memorabilia of the civil rights era and
Arnold's performances...The most important, he says, is
a plaque of recognition from his church, New Psalmist
Baptist Church. But almost as important is his
recognition from Morehouse, the school King attended.
And there are books: on civil rights and
black Americans, from the writings of King himself to the
autobiography of Colin Powell. These, along with his
personal archives, will go to his children after he dies.
"When I was a boy shining shoes in Rockford, " Arnold
says, "an industrialist told me you can get a pretty good
indication of an individual by the books in his home." And
he still believes, as his shoeshine customer told him,
that if he remembered just one thing out of every book he
read, that would be an education in itself.
"You use what you have," he says of his tribute to Martin
Luther King Jr. over the years. "God put me in a position to
-- by Judith Greene, special to
the Baltimore Sun