On the 28th August 1963, American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. The sixteenth of eighteen speeches given by different people as part of the March On Washington, ‘I Have a Dream’ is regularly described as one of the best speeches of the Twentieth Century.
Designed to demonstrate mass support for President Kennedy’s Civil Rights legislation, the March on Washington saw approximately 250,000 people from across the United States converge on the National Mall. Taking place on the centenary of President Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation in which he declared the freedom of slaves, Martin Luther King’s speech paid homage to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in which had reiterated the Declaration of Independence’s principals of human equality.
Claiming that America had not fulfilled the promises made in the Declaration of Independence towards black people, it is the ideal of an integrated and equal America that made up the ‘I have a dream’ refrain. King had already included this refrain in a number of earlier speeches, and hadn’t intended to make it part of his speech in Washington. However, he chose to deviate from his prepared speech when gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who had performed I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned directly before King’s speech, called out “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”
Extensive media and television coverage of the march meant that the speech was witnessed across the nation and encouraged Kennedy’s administration to push forward with its Civil Rights legislation.