Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech almost didn't have the phrase "I have a dream" (2023)

It's usually best to ignore the best plans, at least that was the case with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.Speech "I have a dream" inmarch on washingtonfrom the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.

Widely considered one of the most“Transformative and Influential” Speechesnext to Abraham Lincoln1863The Gettysburg Addressmide Winston Churchill1940“Blood, work, tears and sweat”speech, the impact of King's words on that hot summer afternoon in Washington, DC, moved civil rights advocates far and near and became a powerful rallying cry.

King's speech sparked a movement that helped create theCivil Rights Lawof 1964 and theVoting Rights Act1965, ending racial segregation in the United States.

But these four famous words almost did not make it into the speech.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech almost didn't have the phrase "I have a dream" (1)

Martin Luther King Jr. greets participants in the March on Washington on August 28, 1963

(Video) Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" Speech | History

King wanted the speech to be 'like the Gettysburg Address'

Before taking the podium that day, King was already known on the national stage for his civil rights work. He had already been a leader inMontgomery Bus Boycottin 1955 and theGreensboro sit-in movementin 1960 and was known for his 1963Birmingham Prison Letter, where he was taken after a peaceful demonstration.

The Baptist minister, who also headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was known as a powerful speaker, but most of his audience came from the African-American community. Fellow civil rights activistA. Felipe Randolphapproached him and other prominent figures in the movement to organize the march followed by three hours of speeches.

All three major television networks at the time, ABC, CBS, and NBC, all promised to cover the event, so King knew the stakes were high. Although it is limited to five minutes,your goalIt was clear: to make a speech with an impact on the nation "like the Gettysburg Address."

Relied on a team of trusted advisors

To carefully craft the right words, King turned to his inner circle. The first draft was written by Stanley Levison and Clarence Jones, two of his advisers.

“When it came to my speech drafts, [King] often acted as an interior designer,” Jones said, according too guardian. “I would hand him four strong walls and he would use his God-given abilities to furnish the place so he would feel at home.”

Even knowing the importance of the speech, with the logistics, they only met as a group at the Willard Hotel the night before the speech. “We met in the lobby rather than in a suite, assuming it would be more difficult to bug the lobby,” Jones wrote in the Washington Post. "It was with this strange beginning, hidden in plain sight, that 12 hours before the start of the march on Washington, Martin met with a small group of advisers to work out the themes of his speech."

While King was happy with the draft, he wanted to get as much information out of it as possible. "So that night he had a cross-section of counselors present to fill any blind spots," Jones wrote. “Cleveland Robinson, Walter Fauntroy, Bernard Lee,ralph abernathy, Lawrence Reddick and I joined him, along with Wyatt Walker andBayard Rustin, who were in and out of our deliberations.”

Of course, everyone had their own opinion, which became a challenge to reconcile. “As we ate sandwiches, our suggestions came up,” Jones recalls. “Cleve, Lawrence and I saw the speech as an opportunity to mark an ideological and political milestone in the debate on civil rights and segregation. Others were more inclined to have Martin deliver a kind of sermon in church, full of parables and quotes from the Bible. Some, however, feared that the biblical language would overshadow the real message: reform of the legal system. And still others wanted Martin to direct his remarks to the students, black and white, who would be marching that day.”

READ MORE: Martin Luther King Jr. and 8 black activists who led the civil rights movement

(Video) MLK Talks 'New Phase' Of Civil Rights Struggle, 11 Months Before His Assassination | NBC News

'I have a dream' was originally cut from the speech.

The "dream" idea was actually one that King talked about for a long time, almost as a topic in his previous speeches. Walker had the strongest opinion: “Don't use the lines about 'I have a dream.' It's banal, it's cliché. You have used this many times.

Respecting his point of view, the mention of the dream was removed from the speech. At 4 a.m., King finally went to bed. "Now I go up to my room to consult with my Lord," he said, according too guardian. "See you tomorrow."

Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech almost didn't have the phrase "I have a dream" (2)

Leaders of the March on Washington (left to right): Joachim Prinz, Eugene Carson Blake, Martin Luther King Jr., Floyd McKissick, Matthew Ahmann and John Lewis

King said 'it would be fatal to the nation to ignore the urgency of the moment'

Although everything has been meticulously planned, the organizers are still concerned that the turnout will not be as high as they had hoped. After all, they set a goal of 100,000 people to attend the March on Washington.

But on August 28, despite the heat in the nation's capital, which reached 87 degrees Fahrenheit with uncomfortably humid conditions, people began arriving in droves. Among them were notable names:josephine baker,marlon brando,harry belafonte,Samy Davis Jr.,james garnerCharlton HestonPaul NewmanmiSidney Poitier.

(Video) Martin Luther King "If I had Sneezed"

“It was really impressive. Estimates vary widely, depending on whose agenda is being counted, but those of us who were involved in planning the March put the number at a minimum of 250,000.Jones wrote in his book,Behind the dream: the speech that transformed a nation. “They showed up to connect with The Movement, to draw strength from the speakers and from each other.”

When it was King's turn, some people had already left due to the sweltering heat. But nothing stopped him from his moment on the national scene.

"I am happy to join you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration of freedom in our nation's history," he addressed the crowd.

So, like the Lincoln speech he was inspired by, beginning with "Four twenty-seven years ago," he began with the words "Five twenty years ago" and stressed the importance ofEmancipation Proclamation.

"But a hundred years later, the black is still not free," he continued, before describing the state of life for African-Americans in the United States.

He then moved on to the purpose of the march: “In a sense, we came to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they signed a promissory note to which all Americans would be heirs. This note was a promise that all men, yes, both black and white, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

“It would be fatal for the nation to ignore the urgency of the moment,” he continued, emphasizing why this was essential to imminent action. “And as we walk, we must make a promise that we will always march forward. We can't go back.

A gospel singer prompted King to say 'I have a dream'

Although his words were shocking, they did not have the tremendous impact he expected. But then gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who had sung "I've been Buked and I've Scorned" and was standing next to King, instinctively yelled, "Tell them about the dream, Martin."

Throwing the script out the window, he turned back to his dream.

(Video) Martin Luther King's Last Speech: I've Been to the Mountaintop

"I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream," he began before launching into his most famous passage. "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live the true meaning of its creed: 'We believe on these self-evident truths: that all men are created equal,'" he said.

He described a world of equality, with various parts of what seemed. “I have a dream that my four young 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,” he said. And between each "dream" scene, he said, "Today I have a dream."

Building a cadence that had the crowd engaged and excited, he concluded: “And when that happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring in every town and every village, in every state and every city, we will be able to Hastens that day when all of God's children, black and white, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! finally free! Thank God Almighty, we are finally free!'”

King knew that abandoning his manuscript created the strongest impact

Looking back on the day, Jones notices a change when King threw all the prepared comments out the window: “When he was reading his text, he became a lecturer. But from the moment he put that text aside, he assumed the stance of a Baptist preacher."

And that was the kind of message the United States needed to hear.

Even King remembered all the long hours of preparation and realized that nothing resonated more than reading a crowd and trusting your gut.

“I started by reading the speech and I read it up to a point,” he said. he said later. “The response from the audience was wonderful that day… and suddenly something came to my mind that… I had used many times before… 'I have a dream.' And I felt like I wanted to use it here... I used it, and at that point I just walked away from the manuscript completely. I didn't go back to that.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech almost didn't have the phrase "I have a dream" (3)

(Video) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Final Speech: I've Been To The Mountaintop


Which phrase in Martin Luther King, Jr's I have a dream? ›

One of the most famous anaphora examples comes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech. King uses the anaphoral phrase, “I have a dream,” to start eight consecutive sentences: I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi … will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

Did Martin Luther King, Jr say the I Have a Dream Speech? ›

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., where he gave his "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug. 28, 1963, as part of the March on Washington.

When did MLK say I have a dream? ›

On August 28, 1963, in front of a crowd of nearly 250,000 people spread across the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Baptist preacher and civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Who has the original copy of the I Have a Dream Speech? ›

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will display the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s original speech from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

What is the most famous quote from Martin Luther King Jr? ›

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." Letter from Birmingham, Alabama jail, April 16, 1963.

What is the most famous quote from I have a 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. '” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Why was the I Have A Dream speech so important? ›

Words That Moved A Movement

The March on Washington and King's speech are widely considered turning points in the Civil Rights Movement, shifting the demand and demonstrations for racial equality that had mostly occurred in the South to a national stage.

Why was the I Have a Dream Speech iconic? ›

Historian regards “I Have a Dream” as one of the finest speeches in American oratory history. This speech facilitated the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and helped put civil rights at the top of the reformers' agenda.

What makes Martin Luther King's speech so powerful? ›

King's firm belief in racial equality, civil rights and justice for all was part of what made his speech so powerful. Because he believed in the power of his cause and the beauty of a better future, the crowd of over 250,000 did as well. Without conviction, any change you're trying to accomplish will likely fall flat.

What is the most famous part of the I Have a Dream Speech? ›

I have a dream ... Among the most quoted lines of the speech are "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!"

What are three famous quotes from Martin Luther King? ›

Martin Luther King Jr. quotes: 10 most popular from the civil rights leader
  • "The time is always right to do what is right."
  • "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. ...
  • "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
  • "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Jan 21, 2019

How much is the I Have a Dream Speech worth? ›

Raveling said "You know, I've got the speech." Raveling dug it out of the book, had it frame, and now 59 years later, the Sports Business Daily estimates it's value at about $25,000,000.

What are 5 famous quotes? ›

Quotes by Famous People
  • The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. - ...
  • The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. - ...
  • Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. ...
  • If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor. -
Jan 2, 2023

What was Martin Luther King's most memorable speech called? ›

Popularly known as the "I have a Dream" speech, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced the Federal government to take more direct actions to more fully realize racial equality.

What was Martin Luther King's last quote? ›

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

What is the most famous line of all time? ›

A jury consisting of 1,500 film artists, critics, and historians selected "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn", spoken by Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in the 1939 American Civil War epic Gone with the Wind, as the most memorable American movie quotation of all time.

What is life but a dream quote? ›

Quote by Shakespear: “Life is but a dream, within a dream.

What is the central idea message of the speech? ›

A central idea, also known as the main idea of the speech, represents the specific objective of the speech. The central idea statement is usually just one sentence that sums up the major ideas of a speech. It also tells the audience what they should expect to hear about in the rest of the speech.

Who was the target audience for the I Have a Dream speech? ›

Original Audience

King spoke "I Have a Dream" to an immediate crowd of 250,000 followers who had rallied from around the nation in a March on Washington held in front of the Lincoln Memorial. His audience also consisted of millions across the nation and the world via radio and television.

What does the phrase I Have a Dream mean? ›

A phrase from the most celebrated speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered at a large rally in Washington, D.C., in 1963 to supporters of the civil rights movement. King stressed the importance of nonviolent resistance and vividly painted his vision of a better future for people of all colors in the United States.

How did the I Have a Dream speech inspire change? ›

The March on Washington and Dr. King's “Dream” speech would play an important role in helping pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the pivotal Selma to Montgomery march that he led in 1965 would provide momentum for the passage later that year of the Voting Rights Act.

What made Martin Luther unique? ›

Martin Luther, a 16th-century monk and theologian, was one of the most significant figures in Christian history. His beliefs helped birth the Reformation—which would give rise to Protestantism as the third major force within Christendom, alongside Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

What does Martin Luther King argue in his speech? ›

King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In the speech, Dr. King drew directly on the promises made in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to call for civil rights and an end to racism.

What happened before the I have a dream speech? ›

Civil Rights Movement Before the Speech

One such campaign, the 1961 Freedom Rides, resulted in vicious beatings for many participants, but resulted in the Interstate Commerce Commission ruling that ended the practice of segregation on buses and in stations.

Did Martin Luther King pay for Julia Roberts birth? ›

It turns out, civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, paid the hospital bill when Roberts was born in Smyrna, Georgia, in 1967.

Was MLK family rich or poor? ›

Like many families, the Kings were poor; the county tax lists record little personal property for James King. The family of Delia and James King included nine children. Michael King (who later changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr.), was born on 19 December 1897, the second child and first son.

How much money did Martin Luther King get for the Nobel Peace Prize? ›

At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.

Where was the first I have a dream speech? ›

On August 28, 1963, some 100 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, a young man named Martin Luther King climbed the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to describe his vision of America.

Is the I Have a Dream Speech a primary source? ›

Primary Source Documents

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I have a Dream” speech.

What happened to the speech of I Have a Dream? ›

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles.

Who was the intended audience for the speech I have a dream? ›

Original Audience

King spoke "I Have a Dream" to an immediate crowd of 250,000 followers who had rallied from around the nation in a March on Washington held in front of the Lincoln Memorial. His audience also consisted of millions across the nation and the world via radio and television.

What persuasive devices are used in I Have a Dream? ›

In “I Have a Dream”, Martin Luther King Jr. extensively uses repetitions, metaphors, and allusions. Other rhetorical devices that you should note are antithesis, direct address, and enumeration. Rhetorical devices are language tools used to make speakers' arguments both appealing and memorable.

What tone is apparent in I Have a Dream Speech? ›

Answer and Explanation: The tone of the I Have a Dream Speech is buoyant and hopeful and all with a sense of determination.

What is Luther's dream in his speech I have a dream and how is it connected with the American dream? ›

It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.… 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.


1. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have A Dream' Speech 60 Years Later | The View
(The View)
2. Martin Luther King Jr Famous I have a dream speech
(History Link)
3. Martin Luther King Speaks! Introduced by James Baldwin "We come not to beg, but to demand"
(Matthew Siegfried)
4. MLK: The Other America
(The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change)
5. The Untold Story Behind Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Speech
(Wall Street Journal)
6. 13 Things You Didn't Know About MLK Jr.
(The Specialist)


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