Just more than 48 years ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood in Washington, D.C., at the Lincoln Memorial and delivered what is widely considered to be not only the defining speech of the Civil Rights Movement, but the top American speech delivered in the 20th century.
Speaking to more than 200,000 civil rights activists who had assembled Aug. 28, 1963, King stood at the monument dedicated to the U.S. president who had started African Americans on the road to freedom a century earlier through the Emancipation Proclamation. That road, however, had not been one easily traveled and in many areas, including our state, blockades had been erected over the decades.
King’s speech is often referred to simply as the I Have a Dream speech, though its original title was “Normalcy, Never Again.”
According to mlkonline.net, the “dream” lines deep in the 17-minute speech were improvised, possibly after Mahalia Jackson cried out to King, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”
The words still resonate just as strongly today:
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 today.
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; 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.
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.
King didn’t live to see the fruits of his work, his life cut short by an assassin’s bullet. But it is undeniable that, while America hasn’t reached the point yet, his life, work and sacrifice were instrumental in helping, in his ending words, “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!’ ”