Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) The most famous speech of the Civil Rights Movement was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fifty-one years ago this afternoon, August 28, 1963.
Dr. King's speech was the highlight of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom attended by a quarter of a million people and watched by millions more on television.
MLK, Jr. Memorial
While there were many speakers at the event, it was Dr. King's speech that would resonate throughout the land.
Dr. King said...
"I still have a dream. It is a dream that is deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a 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 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.
When we allow freedom (to) ring....we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we're free at last.'"
MLK, Jr. Memorial
After the event, civil rights leaders, including Dr. King, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Jr., John Lewis and A. Philip Randolph, met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House.
The March on Washington was the brainchild of A. Philip Randolph who had attempted to lead a march in 1941 which never materialized but resulted in FDR's executive order prohibiting discrimination in munition plants.
Mr. Randolph, who became the Director of the March on Washington, had been counseling Dr. King to hold a march in the Nation's Capital in 1963.
President Kennedy's speech on civil rights in June along with his submission of a civil rights bill, gave a strong boost to Randolph's idea.
JFK had been concerned that the March on Washington would turn violent and hurt chances for the passage of his civil rights legislation. When the day ended with no violence, the President was relieved and pleased.
He said privately earlier in the day that he wished he could be "out there" with the marchers.
Thurston Clarke says that after JFK watched Dr. King's speech, he said...
"That's a terrific speech. He's damn good."
Dr. Martin Luther King
At the end of the march, the White House issued this statement...
"We have witnessed today...tens of thousands of Americans...exercising their right to assemble peaceably and direct the widest possible attention to a great national issue.
Efforts to secure equal treatment and equal opportunity for all without regard to race, color, creed or nationality are neither novel nor difficult to understand.
What is different today is the intensified and widespread public awareness of the need to move forward in achieving these objectives."
"We Shall Overcome: The History of the Civil Rights Movement As It Happened," by Herb Boyd, Sourcebooks, Inc. Naperville, Illinois, 2004.
MAHALIA JACKSON SAID:
"MARTIN, TELL THEM ABOUT THE DREAM!"
Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked the Queen of Gospel Music to sing "I've Been Buked and I've Been Scorned" before he spoke at the March on Washington.
Before she sang, however, Mahalia Jackson said to Dr. King...
"Martin, tell them about the dream".
Dr. King had included the "I have a dream" theme in previous speeches and sermons but it was not included in the text of his March on Washington address.
He followed Mahalia's advice, however, and added "I have a dream" to his closing his remarks.