But in between these seminal events, Martin Luther King Jr. made a speech.
For King, speechifying was routine. In all of 1963, he made “at least” 350 speeches, and many of them had a similar theme: aides noticed that he often used the words, “I have a dream,” and they were tired of it.
So on Aug. 27, 1963, the night before the March on Washington, when King asked for advice on the speech he was to give the next morning, they told him to ditch the dream. He’d “used it too many times…”
The next day, when King took the podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial, it appeared that he might’ve listened. His speech took people “to church,” but they’d already sat through other speeches. It was hot—87 degrees. Some people left.
Then, witnesses claim, Mahalia Jackson shouted for King to “Tell them about the dream…”
So he did.
Some say that King’s speech that day was far from his best and “not nearly as powerful” as other speeches. Others criticized his words, saying they didn’t need a dreamer, they needed a “leader.” King himself was “well on the way to being a pariah” that August afternoon.
So why have those words left such a legacy?
In “The Speech,” author Gary Younge asks that question, too, and his skinny little, information-packed volume has the answer.
But in getting to the reason why that speech is one of the more memorable in American history, Younge sets the scene by mixing little-known facts with common knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement. He then explains how the March came together, why it became such an iconic event, and the important impacts, politically and socially, that it still has, 50 years after it almost didn’t occur.
Reading a book about a speech might seem like a narrow focus, but this book has so much more.
(“The Speech” by Gary Younge, c.2013, Haymarket Books, $19.95/$21.99 Canada, 180 pages.)