The Power of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 'I Have A Dream' Speech

The Power of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 'I Have A Dream' Speech


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Learn about the political and social backdrop to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous 'I Have A Dream' speech, the rhetorical devices that helped its message resonate, and its powerful effect on the broader Civil Rights Movement.


Respond to this Question

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Which statement does NOT characterize Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech? 1.)It openly criticized the Governor of Alabama 2.)It supported the peaceful congregation of peoples of all races and religions 3.)It pointed

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read "I Have a Dream" speech, King. 1. Which of the following phrases best summarizes King's dream? a. that americans of all religions will be free at last b. that all americans will achieve true equality and freedom c. that

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How Martin Luther King Improvised 'I Have A Dream'

Few people know that the prepared text to Martin Luther King Jr.’s transformative “dream speech” did not contain the passage that started with “I have a dream” the phrase that most of us remember as we mark the 50th anniversary of King’s famous speech. Something extraordinary happened around the seventh paragraph of the speech, an event that instantly transformed the speech from a good one to one widely considered the greatest speech of the twentieth-century. What happened in the second half of the speech carries an important lesson for today’s business leaders who need to inspire their teams.

In his book, “Behind the Dream,” King speechwriter Clarence B. Jones told the story of what really happened as King prepared for the speech and the astonishing thing that occurred as he was delivering it. I’ll summarize the story and follow it with the vital lesson it carries for contemporary leaders.

The story begins the night before the speech, Tuesday, August 27, 1963. A group of seven individuals, including Jones, had gathered with King at the Willard Hotel to add their input to the final speech. King asked Jones to take notes and to turn the notes into cohesive remarks he would deliver on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Everyone in the room represented a group that had a stake in the speech and who wanted their voices to be heard. “I tried to summarize the various points made by all of his supporters. It was not easy voices from every compass point were ringing in my head,” wrote Jones.

The next morning King’s speech was finished and copies were delivered to the press. Fast forward a few hours later when King was delivering the speech. If you watch the video, you’ll notice that King is looking down a lot in the first part of the speech (watch King read at 2 minutes, 10 seconds into the video clip). King looks down because he is reading the text. “A pleasant shock came over me as I realized that he seemed to be essentially reciting those suggested opening paragraphs I had scrawled down the night before in my hotel room,” wrote Jones.

In the seventh paragraph, something extraordinary happened. King paused. In that brief silence, Mahalia Jackson, a gospel singer and good friend of King’s, shouted “tell ‘em about the ‘dream.’” Few people heard her, with the exception of Jones, Ted Kennedy, and, of course, King. Here’s what happened next. Jones saw King “push the text of his prepared remarks to one side of the lectern. He shifted gears in a heartbeat, abandoning whatever final version he’d prepared…he’d given himself over to the spirit of the moment.” Jones leaned over to the person standing next to him and said, “These people out there today don’t know it yet, but they’re about to go to church.”

King improvised much of the second half of the speech, including the “I have a dream” refrain. Improvise means “to deliver without prior preparation.” It does not mean that King completely made up the words on the spot. In fact King delivered the now familiar refrain, or at least a version of it, two months earlier at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Remarkably, if you read the text of the Detroit event, you’ll see that he did not recite the same sentences word for word. His mesmerizing words and sentence structure were truly delivered extemporaneously. It’s an example of rhetorical dexterity at its finest. Now watch the video again, beginning at 12 minutes, 30 seconds. King rarely looks down in the second half of the speech. It’s because he’s not reading he’s riffing, like a jazz musician. “So much for providing advance material for The March reporters,” wrote Jones. “The effect was nothing short of soul-stirring.”

How does this apply to you? If you want to inspire your listeners, consider the opinions of others, but find your authentic voice.

Think about the majority of business presentations that you see. Many, if not most, are dull and often read directly from notes. They’re functional, but uninspiring. And they are uninspiring because the leader’s voice is nowhere to be found. Recently I was advising a top executive at one of the world’s largest companies. We were seated in a grand, magnificent conference room in the expansive executive wing of the company’s headquarters. It was a very formal environment. A speechwriter was taking notes as representatives from public relations, marketing, and other departments discussed the content of the speech.

The team was building a functional presentation. It contained plenty of compelling statistics and information. Near the end of the session I said, “It’s missing something.” I could feel the glare of some of those in the room who just wanted to end the meeting. I turned to the executive and asked, “Where’s your voice? What’s in your heart?” What happened next was the ‘dream’ moment. He lowered his voice, turned to the group, and fought back tears as he told us why he believed in the company and how proud he was of its 60,000 employees. Every person sat in stunned silence. I turned to the group and said, “There’s the ending of your presentation. Don’t script it.” The executive delivered it two weeks later, adding his ‘voice’ to the conclusion. He received some of the highest marks ever given to an executive speech in the company’s long history.

Find your dream moment by asking yourself this question: What is it about my [company, product, idea] that makes my heart sing? The answer will reflect your authentic voice and it will connect with your listeners on a deeper and more emotional level. Sure, be functional, but build in your voice from time to time and deliver a message that your audience will want to remember.

Carmine Gallo is the communications coach for the world’s most admired brands. He is a popular keynote speaker and author of several books, including the international bestseller The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Carmine’s upcoming book, Talk Like TED, reveals the public speaking secrets of the world’s top minds. Follow Carmine on Facebook or Twitter.


Walking History: The Battle of Yorktown

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In honor of Independence Day we visit the Battle of Yorktown, the final and most important battle of the Revolutionary War which resulted in American independence from Great Britain. This episode does a deep dive into the battle, discussing its background, the chess game that Washington was playing with the British, and the battle itself. Finally, we end by discussing what it&rsquos like to visit this incredible battlefield today.

Want to jump ahead in this episode?

Summary: 4:35
Interesting Facts: 7:15
Background of the Battle: 8:35
The Battle: 32:55
Aftermath: 52:50
Visiting Today: 55:20

The Battle of Yorktown, also known as the Siege of Yorktown, was the final and most important battle of the Revolutionary War, resulting in the complete surrender of the British forces under General Lord Cornwallis to General George Washington and eventually leading to the full British surrender and independence for the United States. Culminating on Oct. 19th, 1781, the battle pitted a combined force of about 17,000 American and French troops against just over 8,000 British. The British had been holed up in the port town of Yorktown, Virginia, near the Chesapeake Bay since the summer, but by October they found themselves trapped between a French fleet at sea and American and French troops by land. Without escape or reinforcement the British forces were sitting ducks.

By 1781 the American Revolution had reached its 6th year of fighting, with both sides tired, but momentum was on the side of the Americans. The French had allied with the Americans and were providing soldiers, supplies, and their powerful navy. The British had tried unsuccessfully for years to control the Middle and New England colonies, and by 1781 their only force, though a large one, in the northern colonies was stationed in New York City. Washington&rsquos strategy of protracted fighting and avoiding large, pitched battles had worn down the enemy, and support for independence steadily grew throughout the new United States. But victory was far from certain. British forces, particularly those under General Cornwallis, were attacking throughout the south, and the British forces in New York City far outnumbered Washington&rsquos and could defeat or capture his army at any time.

The Americans, and French, however, with a great deal of ingenuity and a little bit of luck, managed to corner and defeat Cornwallis&rsquo southern force. &ldquoOh God! It&rsquos all over.&rdquo Said British Prime Minister Lord North upon hearing the news of the defeat at Yorktown. For all intents and purposes it was, although Washington and the rest of those fighting didn&rsquot know it yet, still afraid of the British force in New York. The British would not attack, however, and soon peace negotiations began, finally ending with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. It secured full independence for the fledgling United States, creating the first democracy the world had seen since Rome, and proved that the world&rsquos most powerful countries and their monarchs could be challenged and overcome.


The Daily Hatch

Aerial view of the 1963 March on Washington, looking north from the Washington Monument. (Martin S. Trikosko/Library …

On Aug. 28, 1963, a quarter of a million people peaceably gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Attendant celebrities lent their Hollywood credentials. The media coverage was international. More than 22,000 police officers, guards, soldiers, and paratroopers were placed on alert.

Yet all this has been submerged into the backdrop to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words in “I Have a Dream.” The speech was an afterthought, one that King crafted in the final hours before the momentous convocation, working its rhythms like a poem. It is one of the finest speeches delivered on American soil — the distillation of Old Testament wisdom, Shakespearean drama, the Founding Fathers’ vision, and King’s own sermons and his emergent understanding of what it meant to be free, equal, and American.

With the help of Stanford University’s King Papers Project, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, and “Voice of Deliverance” author Keith Miller, the following is an examination of key passages in “I Have a Dream” and a look at the historic origins that shaped them.

The “greatest demonstration in history

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom still ranks as the largest civil rights assembly in the country’s history. Before then, America’s largest demonstration had been in 1925, when an estimated 35,000 Ku Klux Klan members marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. King’s powerful oration was the “first of its kind” broadcast live on all three networks and around the world via the Telstar satellite.

“Five score years ago”: Abraham Lincoln and Psalms

King noted the Emancipation Proclamation’s centennial but referenced the first line — and its ideals — from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” King linked democratic values to biblical imagery of hellfires and then salvation, notably Psalms 30:5: “For his anger is but for a moment his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

The “chains of discrimination”: Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, John Donne, and Exodus

This passage packs in several key literary influences. Abolitionists long evoked the images of chains to depict slavery’s dehumanizing nature. Frederick Douglass did so in his oft-repeated historic speech “The Meaning of of July Fourth for the Negro.” King’s link to Douglass is even more fundamental, points out Arizona State University English professor Keith Miller, author of “Voices of Deliverance.” Douglass “basically uses the Bible and the Declaration of Independence to indict slavery.” Other speakers who linked the Bible with America’s founding documents included journalist and suffragist Ida B. Wells, who also alluded to the lyrics of the patriotic song “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” (“America”).

King, who wrote of the “paralyzing chains of conformity” in his pivotal “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” also referred to “twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty” in that letter. In this speech, though, the single man on the “lonely island of poverty” harks back to John Donne’s renowned poem, “No Man Is An Island.”

The notion of the exile points to Exodus — when the Jews lived in exile — and an allegory that King evokes throughout “I Have a Dream.”

To “cash a check”: The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and Clarence B. Jones

Besides the two documents that laid out America’s foundation, this passage includes a more contemporary metaphor about check-cashing and a promissory note. This decidedly mundane metaphor was suggested by his counsel and speechwriter, Clarence B. Jones. The religious link, however, reinforces the principles of equality not just as a contract but, as many scholars point out, as a covenant — a moral right, as much as a civil one.

The “Negro’s legitimate discontent”: Shakespeare, Gospel, and blunt words

“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York.” The homage to William Shakespeare’s play “Richard III” is clear. Scholars have dug for more comparisons — the troubled relationship between brothers Richard and Edward is echoed in the troubled relationships between black and white brothers.

In the midst of Shakespearean allusions and Gospel-tinged language (“whirlwinds of revolt”), King plunks a cliché-laden sentence smack in the middle (“blow off steam,” “rude awakening,” “business as usual”). It’s as though he has stepped off the trail to the mountaintop for a moment for some blunt talk.

“[U]ntil justice rolls down like water”: Old Testament prophets

The audience of 1963 would have been far more versed in the Bible then today’s secular audiences. The next few passages dip heavily into the Old Testament, from Jeremiah to Amos. King’s talk about suffering finally gets to a New Testament reference, one he touched on his 1959 sermon “Unfulfilled Hopes” on the Apostle Paul. And in his repeated urgings to “go back” lay the sorrowful hope of Exodus — the dream of home.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident”: Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson wrote those key words in the Declaration of Independence, which King cited here. Of course, Jefferson was an active slave owner. But here, King is following the precedent that Abraham Lincoln established with the Gettysburg Address: He extended the Declaration and transformed it into an accountability doctrine to amend the Constitution.

The Constitution permitted slavery and the slave trade. There’s nothing explicit about privacy, sexual orientation, nor racial equality. The Constitution even rewarded the South’s political power by counting slaves as a fraction of one person, which greased census numbers.

“[It] had no legal power as a source to justify the moral imperative of blocking the expansion of slavery, and later, for emancipation,” said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

“I have a dream”: Sermon on the Mount and the Declaration of Independence

King told an interviewer that he ad-libbed the speech’s most famous repetition.

“I started out reading the speech, and I read it down to a point…the audience response was wonderful that day … And all of a sudden this thing came to me that … I’d used many times before … ‘I have a dream.’ And I just felt that I wanted to use it here … I used it, and at that point I just turned aside from the manuscript altogether. I didn’t come back to it.”

Of course, by the time King turned away from his scripted speech, he had spoken about this dream many times before. History professor Clayborne Carson, who oversees Stanford’s collection of King’s papers, said the phrase riffs on the song “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” (“America”), a device that other speakers (see above) used, as did King’s family friend Archibald Carey. The Chicago lawyer, minister, and diplomat also referenced the lyrics while speaking in support of Dwight Eisenhower at the 1952 Republican Convention.

It is the emphasis on basic and universal appeals that makes the speech so memorable. Historians say that had King spoken of specifics — the March on Washington had been a rally for jobs and freedom, focusing on wages, among other issues — historical memory would be different.

“It’s about a direction, but it doesn’t have the same specific bite that some of his other speeches have, which makes it a lot more acceptable for a lot of people who don’t want to do anything specific or feel like we’ve already done it,” Orfield said.

The “dream” moves the speech’s movement from fiery Old Testament prophets to the New Testament. Its repetition echoes the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus instructs his followers: Blessed are those who hunger and search after justice blessed are those who suffer persecution for justice’s sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Let freedom ring”: Samuel Francis Smith’s “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” (“America”)

These words have their origins in Samuel Francis Smith’s “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

Freedom is “probably the most fundamental American value,” Orfield said. “Even as the opponents of civil rights were fighting for ‘freedom’ from government, King wanted Americans to understand that government had to act and that civil rights law and the social and cultural changes that would come with it would bring a great expansion of freedom.”

King’s geographic references, such as the mention of Stone Mountain in Georgia, were intended to take topological high ground away from resurgent antagonists, such as the KKK.

“Free at last, free at last:” Negro spirituals and the Book of Exodus

Some of King’s thinking can be traced back to the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament. King sometimes began his Sunday sermons reading from the book. Listeners recognized the symbolism in Pharaoh, hardship going through Egypt, and the arrival at the Promised Land.

“It’s very congruent with King’s speeches,” he said. “When you were listening to Dr. King, you would hear about how we were making the path to freedom and we’re going to take down the walls of Jericho. All of this had an incredibly powerful resonance in the black churches where he was organizing people, where it was in their hearts and their souls and it became redemptive politically.”

King’s speech had a powerful inflection point at its end. After his martyrdom, King became associated with street names, public schools and more widespread honors. Lost amid the celebrations, Orfield said, was the recognition, which King held, that the work is never finished.

“The arc [of history] doesn’t bend automatically toward justice,” he said. “Plessy v. Ferguson was the law of the land for 60 years. It took a long struggle to get to Brown v. Board of Education. Every generation has to win its own rights. Anyone who thinks it ends with a big speech 50 years ago is saying something Dr. King would’ve never believed for a second.”

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Nat Hentoff is an atheist, but he became a pro-life activist because of the scientific evidence that shows that the unborn child is a distinct and separate human being and even has a separate DNA. His perspective is a very intriguing one that I thought you would be interested in. I have shared before many […]

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“Sanctity of Life Saturday” Jesse Jackson in 1979: “There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of a higher order than the right to life…That was the premise to slavery!”

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Nat Hentoff is an atheist, but he became a pro-life activist because of the scientific evidence that shows that the unborn child is a distinct and separate human being and even has a separate DNA. His perspective is a very intriguing one that I thought you would be interested in. I have shared before many […]

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Martin Luther King Jr's full "I Have a Dream" speech

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King gave this powerful "I Have a Dream" address during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Video source: Associated Press YouTube

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. [applause]

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves [Audience:] (Yeah) who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. (Hmm)

But one hundred years later (All right), the Negro still is not free. (My Lord, Yeah) One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. (Hmm) One hundred years later (All right), the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later (My Lord) [applause], the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. (Yes, yes) And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (Yeah), they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men (My Lord), would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. (My Lord) Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds. [enthusiastic applause] (My Lord, Lead on, Speech, speech)

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. (My Lord) [laughter] (No, no) We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. (Sure enough) And so we've come to cash this check (Yes), a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom (Yes) and the security of justice. (Yes Lord) [enthusiastic applause]

We have also come to this hallowed spot (My Lord) to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. (Mhm) This is no time (My Lord) to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. [applause] (Yes, Speak on it!) Now is the time (Yes it is) to make real the promises of democracy. (My Lord) Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time [applause] to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time (Yes) [applause] (Now) to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent (Yes) will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. (My Lord) 1963 is not an end, but a beginning. (Yes) And 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. [enthusiastic applause] 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. (My Lord, No, no, no, no) [applause] 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. (My Lord) Again and again (No, no), we must rise to the majestic heights (Yes) of meeting physical force with soul force. (My Lord) The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people (Hmm), 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 [sustained applause], and they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" (Never) We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. (Yes) We can never be satisfied [applause] as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. [applause] We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. (Yes) We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating for whites only. [applause] (Yes, Hallelujah) We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. (Yeah, That's right, Let's go) [applause] No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters (Yes) and righteousness like a mighty stream. [applause] (Let's go, Tell it)

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. (My Lord) Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. (My Lord, That's right) Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution (Yeah, Yes) and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith (Hmm) that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi (Yeah), go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities (Yes), knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. (Yes) Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. (My Lord)

I say to you today, my friends [applause], so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow (Uh-huh), I still have a dream. (Yes) It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. (Yes)

I have a dream (Mhm) that one day (Yes) this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed (Hah): "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." (Yeah, Uh-huh, Hear hear) [applause]

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia (Yes, Talk), the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream (Yes) [applause] that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice (Yeah), sweltering with the heat of oppression (Mhm), will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream (Yeah) [applause] that my four little children (Well) 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. (My Lord) I have a dream today. [enthusiastic applause]

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists (Yes, Yeah), with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" (Yes), one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. [applause] (God help him, Preach)

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted (Yes), every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain (Yes), and the crooked places will be made straight (Yes), and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed [cheering], and all flesh shall see it together. (Yes Lord)

This is our hope. (Yes, Yes) This is the faith that I go back to the South with. (Yes) With this faith (My Lord) we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. (Yes, All right) With this faith (Yes) we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation (Yes) into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. (Talk about it) With this faith (Yes, My Lord) we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together (Yes), to stand up for freedom together (Yeah), knowing that we will be free one day. [sustained applause]

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children (Yes, Yeah) will be able to sing with new meaning: "My country, 'tis of thee (Yeah, Yes), sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. (Oh yes) Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride (Yeah), from every mountainside, let freedom ring!" (Yeah)

And if America is to be a great nation (Yes), this must become true. So let freedom ring (Yes, Amen) from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. (Uh-huh) Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. (Yes, all right) Let freedom ring (Yes) from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. (Well) Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. (Yes) But not only that: (No) Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. [cheering] (Yeah, Oh yes, Lord) Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. (Yes) Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. (Yes) From every mountainside (Yeah) [sustained applause], let freedom ring.

And when this happens [applause] (Let it ring, Let it ring), and when we allow freedom ring (Let it ring), when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city (Yes Lord), we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children (Yeah), black men (Yeah) and white men (Yeah), Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics (Yes), will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! (Yes) Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" [enthusiastic applause]


The Lasting Power of Dr. King’s Dream Speech

It was late in the day and hot, and after a long march and an afternoon of speeches about federal legislation, unemployment and racial and social justice, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. finally stepped to the lectern, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, to address the crowd of 250,000 gathered on the National Mall.

He began slowly, with magisterial gravity, talking about what it was to be black in America in 1963 and the “shameful condition” of race relations a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Unlike many of the day’s previous speakers, he did not talk about particular bills before Congress or the marchers’ demands. Instead, he situated the civil rights movement within the broader landscape of history — time past, present and future — and within the timeless vistas of Scripture.

Dr. King was about halfway through his prepared speech when Mahalia Jackson — who earlier that day had delivered a stirring rendition of the spiritual “I Been ’Buked and I Been Scorned” — shouted out to him from the speakers’ stand: “Tell ’em about the ‘Dream,’ Martin, tell ’em about the ‘Dream’!” She was referring to a riff he had delivered on earlier occasions, and Dr. King pushed the text of his remarks to the side and began an extraordinary improvisation on the dream theme that would become one of the most recognizable refrains in the world.

With his improvised riff, Dr. King took a leap into history, jumping from prose to poetry, from the podium to the pulpit. His voice arced into an emotional crescendo as he turned from a sobering assessment of current social injustices to a radiant vision of hope — of what America could be. “I have a dream,” he declared, “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. I have a dream today!”

Many in the crowd that afternoon, 50 years ago on Wednesday, had taken buses and trains from around the country. Many wore hats and their Sunday best — “People then,” the civil rights leader John Lewis would recall, “when they went out for a protest, they dressed up” — and the Red Cross was passing out ice cubes to help alleviate the sweltering August heat. But if people were tired after a long day, they were absolutely electrified by Dr. King. There was reverent silence when he began speaking, and when he started to talk about his dream, they called out, “Amen,” and, “Preach, Dr. King, preach,” offering, in the words of his adviser Clarence B. Jones, “every version of the encouragements you would hear in a Baptist church multiplied by tens of thousands.”

You could feel “the passion of the people flowing up to him,” James Baldwin, a skeptic of that day’s March on Washington, later wrote, and in that moment, “it almost seemed that we stood on a height, and could see our inheritance perhaps we could make the kingdom real.”

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Dr. King’s speech was not only the heart and emotional cornerstone of the March on Washington, but also a testament to the transformative powers of one man and the magic of his words. Fifty years later, it is a speech that can still move people to tears. Fifty years later, its most famous lines are recited by schoolchildren and sampled by musicians. Fifty years later, the four words “I have a dream” have become shorthand for Dr. King’s commitment to freedom, social justice and nonviolence, inspiring activists from Tiananmen Square to Soweto, Eastern Europe to the West Bank.

Why does Dr. King’s “Dream” speech exert such a potent hold on people around the world and across the generations? Part of its resonance resides in Dr. King’s moral imagination. Part of it resides in his masterly oratory and gift for connecting with his audience — be they on the Mall that day in the sun or watching the speech on television or, decades later, viewing it online. And part of it resides in his ability, developed over a lifetime, to convey the urgency of his arguments through language richly layered with biblical and historical meanings.

The son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, Dr. King was comfortable with the black church’s oral tradition, and he knew how to read his audience and react to it he would often work jazzlike improvisations around favorite sermonic riffs — like the “dream” sequence — cutting and pasting his own words and those of others. At the same time, the sonorous cadences and ringing, metaphor-rich language of the King James Bible came instinctively to him. Quotations from the Bible, along with its vivid imagery, suffused his writings, and he used them to put the sufferings of African-Americans in the context of Scripture — to give black audience members encouragement and hope, and white ones a visceral sense of identification.

In his “Dream” speech, Dr. King alludes to a famous passage from Galatians, when he speaks of “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.” As he did in many of his sermons, he also drew parallels between “the Negro” still an “exile in his own land” and the plight of the Israelites in Exodus, who, with God on their side, found deliverance from hardship and oppression, escaping slavery in Egypt to journey toward the Promised Land.

The entire March on Washington speech reverberates with biblical rhythms and parallels, and bristles with a panoply of references to other historical and literary texts that would have resonated with his listeners. In addition to allusions to the prophets Isaiah (“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low”) and Amos (“We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”), there are echoes of the Declaration of Independence (“the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”) Shakespeare (“this sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent”) and popular songs like Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” (“Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York,” “Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California”).

Such references added amplification and depth of field to the speech, much the way T. S. Eliot’s myriad allusions in “The Waste Land” add layered meaning to that poem. Dr. King, who had a doctorate in theology and once contemplated a career in academia, was shaped by both his childhood in his father’s church and his later studies of disparate thinkers like Reinhold Niebuhr, Gandhi and Hegel. Along the way, he developed a gift for synthesizing assorted ideas and motifs and making them his own — a gift that enabled him to address many different audiences at once, while making ideas that some might find radical somehow familiar and accessible. It was a gift that in some ways mirrored his abilities as the leader of the civil rights movement, tasked with holding together often contentious factions (from more militant figures like Stokely Carmichael to more conservative ones like Roy Wilkins), while finding a way to balance the concerns of grass-roots activists with the need to forge a working alliance with the federal government.

At the same time, Dr. King was also able to nestle his arguments within a historical continuum, lending them the authority of tradition and the weight of association. For some, in his audience, the articulation of his dream for America would have evoked conscious or unconscious memories of Langston Hughes’s call in a 1935 poem to “let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed” and W. E. B. Du Bois’s description of the “wonderful America, which the founding fathers dreamed.” His final lines in the March on Washington speech come from a Negro spiritual reminding listeners of slaves’ sustaining faith in the possibility of liberation: “Free at last, free at last thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

For those less familiar with African-American music and literature, there were allusions with immediate, patriotic connotations. Much the way Lincoln redefined the founders’ vision of America in his Gettysburg Address by invoking the Declaration of Independence, so Dr. King in his “Dream” speech makes references to both the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence. These deliberate echoes helped universalize the moral underpinnings of the civil rights movement and emphasized that its goals were only as revolutionary as the founding fathers’ original vision of the United States. Dr. King’s dream for America’s “citizens of color” was no more, no less than the American Dream of a country where “all men are created equal.”

As for Dr. King’s quotation of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” — an almost de facto national anthem, familiar even to children — it underscored civil rights workers’ patriotic belief in the project of reinventing America. For Dr. King, it might have elicited personal memories, too. The night his home was bombed during the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., endangering the lives of his wife, Coretta, and their infant daughter, he calmed the crowd gathered in front of their house, saying, “I want you to love our enemies.” Some of his supporters reportedly broke into song, including hymns and “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.”

The March on Washington and Dr. King’s “Dream” speech would play an important role in helping pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the pivotal Selma to Montgomery march that he led in 1965 would provide momentum for the passage later that year of the Voting Rights Act. Though Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, his exhausting schedule (he had been giving hundreds of speeches a year) and his frustration with schisms in the civil rights movement and increasing violence in the country led to growing weariness and depression before his assassination in 1968.

The knowledge that Dr. King gave his life to the cause lends an added poignancy to the experience of hearing his speeches today. And so does being reminded now — in the second term of Barack Obama’s presidency — of the dire state of race relations in the early 1960s, when towns in the South still had separate schools, restaurants, hotels and bathrooms for blacks and whites, and discrimination in housing and employment was prevalent across the country. Only two and a half months before the “Dream” speech, Gov. George Wallace had stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama in an attempt to block two black students from trying to register the next day the civil rights activist Medgar Evers was assassinated in front of his home in Jackson, Miss.

President Obama, who once wrote about his mother’s coming home “with books on the civil rights movement, the recordings of Mahalia Jackson, the speeches of Dr. King,” has described the leaders of the movement as “giants whose shoulders we stand on.” Some of his own speeches owe a clear debt to Dr. King’s ideas and words.

In his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address, which brought him to national attention, Mr. Obama channeled Dr. King’s vision of hope, speaking of coming “together as one American family.” In his 2008 speech about race, he talked, much as Dr. King had, of continuing “on the path of a more perfect union.” And in his 2007 speech commemorating the 1965 Selma march, he echoed Dr. King’s remarks about Exodus, describing Dr. King and the other civil rights leaders as members of the Moses generation who “pointed the way” and “took us 90 percent of the way there.” He and his contemporaries were their heirs, Mr. Obama said — they were members of the Joshua generation with the responsibility of finishing “the journey Moses had begun.”

Dr. King knew it would not be easy to “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood” — difficulties that persist today with new debates over voter registration laws and the Trayvon Martin shooting. Dr. King probably did not foresee a black president celebrating the 50th anniversary of his speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and surely did not foresee a monument to himself just a short walk away. But he did dream of a future in which the country embarked on “the sunlit path of racial justice,” and he foresaw, with bittersweet prescience, that 1963, as he put it, was “not an end, but a beginning.”


Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” Speech

In his iconic speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on the March on for Jobs and Freedom, on August 28, 1963. Dr King urged America to "make real the promises of democracy." Dr King synthesized portions of his earlier speeches to capture both the necessity for change and the potential for hope in American society.

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. 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 marvellous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a 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 they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?”

We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.

We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “for whites only.”

We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream 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 one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

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.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, 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 are free at last!”

Legacy

Dr King was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, at 6:01 p.m. He was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where he died at 7:05 p.m. He was only 39 years old

Dr King was the most important voice of the American civil rights movement, which worked for equal rights for all. Because of his great work, in 1964 Dr King received the Nobel Peace Prize the youngest person ever to receive this high honor.


Day of private and public grief

Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King, Jr., and family sit in a pew during the first of two funeral services held on April 9, 1968, in Atlanta, Georgia. The first was for family, close friends and other invitees at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King and his father served as senior pastors. There followed a 3-mile procession to Morehouse College, King's alma mater, for a public service.

Martin Luther King's funeral: Laying an American saint to rest


Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech in Full

On August 28th 1963, a hot late-summer day, between 200,000 and 300,000 activists participated in the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.’ It was a protest unprecedented in scale and ambition.

Throughout the day several major civil rights leaders delivered speeches, but the undoubted highlight was that given by Martin Luther King Jr., the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

His rallying cry for universal justice and peace resonated throughout the subsequent struggle for equal rights, and 50 years later still has the capacity to stir profound emotion.


Watch the video: Μάρτιν Λούθερ Κινγκ στην ομιλία του Έχω ένα όνειρο


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