56th anniversary of “I Have a Dream” speech

Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech
Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech(KPLC)
Updated: Aug. 28, 2019 at 11:12 AM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Today marks the 56th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”

Dr. King made the speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. The march was held in Washington D.C. and was organized by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin with an estimated attendance of 250,000 people. It was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history and is credited with helping pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The purpose of the march was to advocate for the civil and economic rights of African-Americans who were still being oppressed under the pervasive Jim Crow laws. From the late 1800′s up until the early 1960′s many states upheld a legal principle of “separate, but equal” forcing non-white Americans to use separate public facilities and institutionalized economic, educational, and social disadvantages for them.

Even up until the time of the march many African-Americans were still experiencing discrimination from businesses and governments. In some places they were even prevented from voting through intimidation and violence. And at the time of the march interracial marriage was still illegal in twenty-one states.

The march itself received wide national attention by preempting regularly scheduled TV programs. Many in government and the press believed the march would turn in to a riot or outright violence. The Pentagon even readied 19,000 troops in the suburbs and had inmates in jails and prisons shifted to make room for what they assumed would be mass arrests.

View from Lincoln Memorial during 1963 March on Washington
View from Lincoln Memorial during 1963 March on Washington(Google)

More than 2,000 buses, 21 chartered trains, 10 chartered airliners, and large numbers of cars converged on Washington on the day of the march which started late so that the march leaders could meet with members of Congress. The march actually began without the leaders starting at the Washington Monument moving to the Lincoln Memorial where demonstrators were met with speakers and musicians.

On the sidelines 50 members of the American Nazi Party attempted to stage a counter-protest of the march but were quickly dispersed by police.

Speakers of note at the march were Roy Wilkins, current U.S. Congressman John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Walter Reuther, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King’s speech began with a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed millions of slaves in 1863, and followed by noting that one hundred years later they were still not free. During his speech he invoked a number of lines from important American documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Untied States Constitution.

His speech drew upon his own experiences with racism and appealed to America’s ideals of freedom placing them within a spiritual call for racial justice and stating that it was God’s will that all Americans be given true equality.

Towards the end of his prepared statements Dr. King expanded into a partly improvised section in what would become the most famous portion of the speech. In this part he spoke about his dreams for freedom and equality that would rise from a land of slavery and hatred.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

The speech itself is widely regarded as the greatest American speech of the 20th century.

You can read the speech at the national archives HERE.

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