Famed MLK speech almost didn’t include ‘I have a dream’

Clarence B. Jones who wrote speeches for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and attended the rally on August 28, 1963, where King gave his ground breaking speech, reflects on the event in Palo Alto,
Clarence B. Jones, who wrote speeches for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and attended the rally on Aug. 28, 1963 where King gave his groundbreaking speech, reflects on the event.

Clarence Jones was sitting 50 feet behind his boss, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on the brilliant, sunny day in 1963 when King delivered the now-infamous ‘I have a Dream’ speech that would forever change the course of race relations in the United States.

Now, 50 years later, Jones recalls how the words “I have a dream” were not written in the text that King prepared and began to read that day. Instead, King improvised on the spot, reviving a phrase he has used previously with little impact, according to Jones, King’s lawyer, speechwriter and confidant.

“I have a dream,” King shouted to the crowd, his voice reverberating with emotion, “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Delivered 50 years ago on Wednesday, King’s image of his dream for a better America still inspires the United States. The speech was delivered to more than 250,000 people who came to Washington, D.C., to march for civil rights at a time when it was still illegal for blacks and whites to marry in many states, and just months after protesters in Alabama were set upon with police dogs and fire hoses.

King had spoken before about having a dream for his children, and for America, but the phrase had never really resonated with an audience and the idea was left out of the text for that day’s speech altogether, Jones said in an interview with Reuters near his home in Palo Alto. He also recounted the story in his most recent book, “Behind the Dream,” which was published in 2011.

King had prepared a text that started with several paragraphs of Jones’ writing. As King began to read it, Jones tracked the paragraphs as they went by. The first seven were as he had written them.

One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed U.S. slaves, “the life of the Negro is still badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination,” King intoned.

A Baptist preacher with a stirring and charismatic speaking style, King went on, reading parts of the text that he had added to the first few paragraphs by Jones.

Then came the change in script.

The gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who had earlier performed the song, “How I Got Over,” yelled from the stands. “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin,” she said, according to Jones. “Tell ‘em about the dream!”

‘Everything thereafter was spontaneous’

Jones said he could not see Jackson because she was sitting below him, but he heard her voice.

He also saw King, who had been reading from the text in front of him, look up. King nodded to where Jackson was sitting, Jones said, adding he saw King take hold of the pages of his speech and move them to one side.

“He moves the text of the speech to the left side of the lectern, grabs the lectern, looks out on those more than 250,000 people assembled and thereafter begins to speak completely spontaneously and extemporaneously,” Jones said.

“Everything thereafter was spontaneous,” he said. “That was the ‘I have a dream’ speech.”

From that moment on, King’s cadence changed as sentences and ideas built on one another to reach powerful crescendos.

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” King said.

“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.”

Jones, who is the author of two books about King, teaches at both Stanford University and the University of San Francisco. He was born in Philadelphia in 1931 and he met King in 1960, remaining close to him until King’s assassination in 1968.

He said he believes a number of conditions that day helped make the moment historic: the beautiful weather; the presence of more than 250,000 people; a powerful speech that preceded King’s by Joachim Prinz, then president of the American Jewish Congress; the location at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial; and the centennial anniversary of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which freed black slaves in the United States.

Anger among black Americans was also at a tipping point, Jones said. Images of police dogs and fire hoses used against peaceful demonstrators, including children, at protests in Birmingham, Ala., enraged African-Americans and shocked many around the world.

“You can’t understand about the ‘I have a dream’ speech,” Jones said, “unless you pause and reflect about the historical circumstances that were taking place in the country at that time.”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.