‘I Have a Dream’ echoes as millions recall Martin Luther King, Jr.

“And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963

Holidays & Festivals Column Covers This Historic Milestone …

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 28: It was a moment so thick with tension, and so opportune for mounting violence, that TIME Magazine voiced what every American seemed to be sensing: “The moment seems to be now.” For better or for worse, America was teetering on the brink of change: conflicts over civil rights were gathering speed at an alarming rate, as police used violent means against protestors and the FBI bugged activists’ phones.

It was in this perilous moment that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stepped to the microphone at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and became what TIME Magazine today describes as: “a new founding father” and “the moral leader of the nation.”

I have a dream today!”

Caught in the passion of the moment and the 250,000 onlookers who had come to support the speakers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dropped his papers and ad-libbed a portion of his speech. Nearby, the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called to him: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” Originally intended as “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” Dr. King’s words now echo around the world. This week, TIME declares in a special issue on the March and the Speech: “Casting aside his script, King reset every standard for political oratory. Presidents ever since ahve been trying to match his words, power and moral authority.”

King quoted the Bible, Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln, referenced the United States Constitution and current events, before sharing his dream with the crowd. Coretta Scott King remarked that it was “as if heaven had come down to earth … like the kingdom of God had descended on the Lincoln Memorial right there in our midst.”

I have a dream today!”

Dr. King’s speech would alter the course of the civil rights movement from that day forward. At the anniversary, from Washington to New Hampshire to Switzerland to Tokyo—bell ceremonies will literally “let freedom ring,” as Dr. King requested at the end of his speech, on this day in 1963.

The ‘Dream,’ the Hopes—and Reality

How did the world change? And how much did it change? By some measures, America and the world changed a lot because of the March on Washington and King’s enduring message. One way to see the global change is to read a series of four short profiles on the origins of King’s peacemaking—and the legacy of his teaching—written by Daniel Buttry.

But in America? In terms of real economic change—one of the central themes of the March—surprisingly little has changed. Gaps remain in some major measures of economic equality across race and ethnicity. Sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker, creator of the OurValues project, reports on striking new conclusions drawn by the Pew center based on nationwide research.


REP. JOHN LEWIS AND THE COMIC BOOK: Quite a few news headlines and TV reports over the past week have focused on  U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the last remaining speaker from the March. Lewis is prominent in TIME magazine’s special issue. He is especially popular, these days, for becoming the first U.S. Congressman to publish a comic book: The March. Read our separate story today that tells why Lewis agreed to create this historic comic series about the civil rights movement.

NEWS ABOUT KING’S ‘LETTER FROM THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL’—Today, Duncan Newcomer reviews Gospel of Freedom, a new book by Jonathan Rieder that tells the story behind King’s most famous letter. Americans also are celebrating the 50th anniversary of that letter, this year.

‘HOW DR. KING ALMOST GOT ME FIRED’—Edward McNulty now is best known as a leading writer on faith and film, but in the late 1950s he was a young pastor and was deeply inspired by King’s message. In a new column, McNulty writes about how that inspiration led him into an unexpectedly tough confrontation.


Friend, advisor and lawyer Clarence Jones recently reported in an interview that excitement for the march began when newspapers published Dr. King’s letter to him, from jail—and it was Nelson Rockefeller who met Jones with a bag of $100,000 in cash to bail Dr. King out of jail. Following bail, Dr. King hid in Jones’ home for six weeks before the March on Washington.

Apprehension had been mounting in the weeks leading to March day, and President Kennedy had unsuccessfully tried to thwart the event in talks with civil rights leaders. At the time, a Gallup poll revealed that 60 percent of Americans disapproved of the march, or didn’t think it would accomplish anything. (A USA Today column goes in depth.) Though speakers had agreed they would keep these events calm and orderly, extra measures were taken and thousands of troops were deployed, nearby businesses shut down and the city banned liquor sales.

When the March on Washington proved a success, few Americans had changed their perspective on the civil rights movement. It didn’t take long to sink in, however, and in the wake of the march and speech, King was named TIME’s Man of the Year. In 1964, Dr. King became the youngest person to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. In 2002, the Library of Congress added King’s speech to the United States National Recording Registry; one year later, the National Park Service inscribed words from Dr. King’s speech into the step where he had stood at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.


It was 50 years ago when George Raveling, a 26-year-old former college basketball star, was recruited to volunteer at a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. Though few could predict the lasting influence of this particular speech, it was Raveling who casually asked Dr. King for the paper copy of the speech, following its deliverance—and it’s Raveling who owns the original paper speech today. (Read the story at CBS News.) Decades passed before the former basketball coach realized the importance of what he kept informally tucked in an autobiography of Harry Truman, and in 1984, the revelation came to light. Raveling says he has been offered $3.5 million for the document—which, ironically, doesn’t contain the words “I have a dream” anywhere—but will never sell it. “The speech belongs to America, the speech belongs to black folks,” he said in an interview. “It doesn’t belong to me, and it would be sacrilegious of me to try and sell it to profit from it.” (View the paper copy of the speech at archives.gov.)

TIME Magazine has pulled out all the stops for the “I Have a Dream” anniversary, launching a multimedia site—Time.com/time/onedream—as well as its special issue dedicated to event’s 50th. The multimedia site contains 10 videos, courtesy of Red Border Films, all of which give testimonials from the key people who made the march a success.

In an interview with the UK’s Mirror News, Clarence Jones recalls jotting down several paragraphs of ideas for Dr. King’s speech the night before, many of which King used in his address. Yet what had been planned as a four-minute speech quadrupled in length when, from the crowd, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson inspired King. Variations of the “dream” speech had been heard elsewhere before, but never was it delivered at a more appropriate time—or to a more fitting audience—than on that day in Washington. (Wikipedia had details.)

Celebrants in Atlanta will gather by the thousands this week for the Atlanta Global Freedom Expo, which will showcase storytelling from the ground crew who attended the march; display period entertainment and dance; feature food demonstrations and an open house at Dr. King’s birthplace. (Get more information from wsbtv.com.) The event is free.

“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 are free at last!”

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  1. Duncan Newcomer says

    The speech,however,that may likely have cost him his life he gave on April 4th 1967–a year to the hour of his being shot. He spoke at Riverside Church in New York City, fulfilling his role as Prophet to the American Empire. That evening he made the case against the war in Vietnam. Abraham Joshua Heschel and Henry Steele Commanger were speakers as well. I was fortunate to be in the huge audience.King has a visible golden glow off his skin, and about him, as he linked his voice for Civil Rights to the larger issues of military empire and economic justice. After his “I have A Dream” speech Time called him the moral voice of America. After this speech they accused him of betrayals It is worth reading on line.

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