With a poignant sonorous voice, Reginald Brunson recited Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. “Every Friday before the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, I recite the speech at South Kortright Central School,” said Brunson. “I also delivered the speech at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ceremony in Oneonta on Sunday.”
South Kortright Principal, John Bonhotal, includes Reginald Brunson as a regular guest to recite King’s speech every year at the school. The audience for the Friday production at South Kortright School consists of Kindergarteners through fifth graders. Students from the fifth grade participated with poster cards that illustrated a timeline. “Important events from 1929 to 1983 were written on each poster card,” said Azalyn Brunson, fifth grade student and introducer of Reginald Brunson.
Brunson stands before the listeners, commanding attention as he draws in his breath. The words are familiar yet so potent they require concentration. Brunson comes to the part of the eight minute speech, repeating with appropriate intonation: “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
“But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”
“Every time I recite the speech, the audience has my attention,” said Brunson. “To touch hearts is my goal. I work with the fact that the audiences in upstate New York are non-minority.” Brunson grew up in South Carolina and was the minority. He remembers the signs clearly stating, “For White’s Only.” “There were seven of us kids in y family and at first we went to a segregated school.” Brunson was in the seventh grade when school segregation was diminished.
“Growing up in central South Carolina was totally different from growing up here in the north,” said Brunson. “There is no comparison and I chose to raise my kids in the north. They didn’t have to be exposed to the prejudices more common in the south. A lot of progress has been made, I love my country, but more progress yet needs to be made.”
Brunson and his siblings were growing up at the tail end of what is now known as The Great Migration, the relocation of more than 6 million African Americans from the rural South to the cities of the West, Midwest, and North from 1916 to 1970. The Migration was one of the greatest numbers in history. African Americans left their homes to relocate where there were more satisfactory economic opportunities and less segregationist laws. The burgeoning industrial age was a resource for employment especially during the World Wars. The Great Migration came with problems however such as poor working conditions and competition for living space. Racism and prejudice still existed but African Americans began building their own niches of black urban culture that grew to exert enormous influence. “I remember the marches and the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed,” said Reginald Brunson. “I was eight years old when I watched King die. I don’t forget it.” Years later, Brunson was asked to recite the “I Have a Dream” speech and he memorized it. “I don’t forget it,” said Brunson. “The words and meaning are in my long term memory to stay.”
“I’ve torn apart the speech, realizing what to emphasize,” said Burnson. “I’ve watched videos of Martin Luther King Jr. giving the speech.” Burnson utilizes his background in theater during the oration. He realized his love of theater while in High School. He went on to study accounting and theater at what is now Winthrop University, in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Since moving to Hobart, he has been involved in many productions in and out of Delaware County. Plays of notice are: Witness for the Prosecution, Twelve Angry Men, and Out Town along with a one-man act at Franklin Stage.
“Martin Luther King Jr. had given the speech 5 or 6 times before the Washington D.C. event,” said Brunson. “I recite the final version which King had developed to a full power.” Martin Luther King Jr. gave the final speech August 28, 1963, fifty years ago this year. Brunson has given the speech at a multitude of places. “I will recite it next month when our family goes to Carolinas for vacation,” added Brunson who is scheduled to give the address in Charlotte, North Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, and his hometown of Sumpter, South Carolina.
“I’m excited to visit South Carolina, it’s been a while since we’ve been back,” said Brunson. “But, this is home. I love Delaware County. The people in Bloomville, Hobart, and South Kortright are the salt of the earth. They’ve always had my back and they are my family.” Reginald and his wife, Cynthia Hillis Brunson, have a home in Hobart. They have six children and three grandchildren. “I love them all,” adds Brunson.
A fulfilled promise to Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “I have a dream that my four 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.”