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During his short but effective life as preacher and civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. gave many speeches. However the one that seemed to resonate with the entire country, race notwithstanding, was the one he delivered fifty years ago on August 28th, 1963, whilst standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
It was a hot summer day. Over 250,000 people, rich & poor, black & white, had amalgamated at the country's capital to stage a peaceful protest against the discrimination, joblessness and the economic inequality being endured by African Americans a century after the Emancipation Proclamation, the first step toward ending slavery, had been declared. The protestors listened attentively as the speakers talked about the various issues. Millions more from all across the country sat glued to their televisions.
Martin Luther King Jr. was the last to speak. As usual, he delivered an eloquent and passionate speech for about 15 minutes. Then, just as the crowd thought he was winding down, he uttered the inspiring words that ring true in everyone's ears till today:
'I have a dream, 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 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 . . .'
As the live spectators and the ones on television watched mesmerized, the civil rights leader outlined everything he wished America would be. When he finished his address with this poignant sentence:
"Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty. We are free at last!",
many in the audience wept openly, whilst others just sat quietly as if, waiting for more. Then suddenly, the silence was shattered by an outburst of applause and cheers!
What is interesting is that according to people that were close to the civil rights leader, the night prior to the march, his closest aide Wyatt Tee Walker had advised him not to do what he called 'the dream thing'. Calling it 'trite' and a 'cliche', he believed that Dr. King had used it too many times, prior to this.Taking heed of his advice, the civil rights leader took it out from his official written speech.
No one is sure why he decided to add it back in. Some think that he was prompted by Mahalia Jackson his favorite gospel singer who was standing close to him and kept urging him to tell people about his dream, others believe it was his own impromptu decision. But whatever it was, it worked! Every American regardless of color could relate to the words because they were essentially everyone's 'American Dream(s)'. Not only that, over the years it has also inspired people all over the country and world to believe that dreams no matter how impossible they may seem, do come true!
Whether it was the electrifying speech that did it or the sight of so many people on the streets of the nation's capital, the 1963 March on Washington as it is now called, is often considered a pivotal event in the country's civil rights movement history. That's because shortly after in 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, following it up a year later, with the Voting Rights Act.
If Dr. King had been alive today, he would have been amazed at how far the country has progressed since that fateful day in Washington D.C., a mere 50 years ago and how people are still fulfilling his 'dream' by continuing to aspire for a better nation. The anniversary of this pivotal event is being celebrated in the nation's capital all week, with marches and speeches to talk about what else we could 'dream' about to make America a better country. The grand finale will be a speech delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by the country's first African American leader, President Barack Obama, and will be followed by a bell-ringing ceremony at 3.00pm, to honor the exact time when Dr. King gave us the inspiration and courage to dream about a better future!
Resources: Scholastic.com, democracynow.org, huffingtonpost.com