While not everyone recognizes the varied matters of social justice — in addition to race — Martin Luther King Jr. peacefully crusaded for, one thing that is synonymous with the civil rights activist is his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of America’s most beloved speech. Even those who can recite lines from “I Have a Dream” might not be aware of all of the interesting facts surrounding King’s big moment:
1. The Dream Wasn’t Supposed to Be Part of the Speech
King had prepared another speech for the occasion that made no mention of the “dream.” Mid-speech, however, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted, “Tell them about the dream!” Earlier in the week, Jackson had heard King discuss his dream for the future, and thought the crowd would benefit from hearing his vision. King promptly heeded Jackson’s request and switched gears to talk about his now-famous dream.
2. Much of the Speech Was Ad-Libbed
In switching to a dream-focused speech, King’s prepared notes were no longer of use. It’s hard to imagine that one of the world’s most highly regarded speeches was not scripted, but coming straight from the heart.
Of course, that fact might have also contributed to it being so powerful. Clarence Jones, who had collaborated with King to write the speech’s initial text, was so moved by King’s words that he wasn’t offended that his original work had been dropped on the spot. Jones noted, “I have never seen him speak the way I saw him on that day. It was as if some cosmic transcendental force came down and occupied his body.”
3. Troops Prepared for Riots
The government expected the worst and arranged to have nearly 20,000 troops on standby should the day’s march get unruly. Local liquor stores were ordered to stay closed that day, an event that hadn’t occurred since Prohibition. Officials even rigged the audio system so that they could quickly cut King’s mic and switch to music if he were to say anything that might incite violence. None of these measures were necessary, however, as the day was entirely peaceful.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Photo Credit: USMC, Photo Credit: Dick DeMarsico, Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Photo Credit: USMC, Photo Credit: Cecil Stoughton, Photo Credit: Marion Trikosko, Photo Credit: Athena LeTrelle via Flickr
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