March on Washington, 1963

MLK waving to crowd at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Continuing Monday’s theme of equality for all Americans, today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s momentous “I Have a Dream” speech.

On this day in 1963, 250,000 Civil Rights supporters marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. They gathered on the National Mall to listen to several speakers, the last of whom was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He had a 7-minute speech planned but launched into a largely improvised 16-minute sermon. In fact, the iconic and anaphoral phrase “I have a dream” was not a planned part of his speech, although he had used this phrase in past speeches.

If you haven’t yet seen King’s impassioned and inspirational speech, here it is in full.

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 open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech

The Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Martin Luther King finished his historic speech with fervor:

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to 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!

After hearing King’s speech, Kennedy stated, “He’s damn good.”

In addition, after King delivered his speech, the march ended peacefully and without a single arrest. As King said, the March on Washington was truly “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

Further reading: Here is the text of the speech.

The “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the greatest uses of rhetoric in history. How might things have been different if he followed his original script?


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