“I have a dream this afternoon that my four little children will not come up in the same young days that I came up within, but they will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words in 1963, but this was not the speech that would go down as one of the most important addresses in US history.
King spoke these words in Detroit, two months before he addressed a crowd of nearly 250,000 with his resounding “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs on August 28, 1963.
Several of King’s staff members actually tried to discourage him from using the same “I have a dream” refrain again.
As we all know, that didn’t happen. But how this pivotal speech was crafted is just one of several interesting facts about what is one of the most important moments in the 20th century in the United States:
1. MLK’s speech almost didn’t include ‘I have a dream’
King had suggested the familiar “Dream” speech that he used in Detroit for his address at the march, but his adviser the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker called it “hackneyed and trite.”
So, the night before the march, King’s staff crafted a new speech, “Normalcy Never Again.”
King was the last speaker to address the crowd in Washington that day. As he spoke, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called out to King, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.”
Then he paused and said, “I still have a dream.”
Walker was out in the audience. “I said, ‘Oh, s—.’”
“I thought it was a mistake to use that,” Walker recalled. “But how wrong I was. It had never been used on a world stage before.”
The rest, of course, is history.
2. The march almost didn’t include any female speakers, either
It was only after pressure from Anna Arnold Hedgeman, the only woman on the national planning committee, that a “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” was added to the official program.
It took further convincing to have a woman lead it.
Daisy Bates spoke in the place of Myrlie Evers, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Bates, president of the Arkansas NAACP who played a key role in integrating schools in Little Rock, told the crowd: “We will walk until we are free, until we can walk to any school and take our children to any school in the United States. And we will sit-in and we will kneel-in and we will lie-in if necessary until every Negro in America can vote. This we pledge to the women of America.”
Earlier, Josephine Baker, an internationally known American entertainer who had moved to France to find fame, addressed the crowd. Dressed in a military jacket draped with medals for her contribution to French resistance in World War II, she spoke in very personal terms about freedom:
“You know I have always taken the rocky path. I never took the easy one, but as I get older, and as I knew I had the power and the strength, I took that rocky path, and I tried to smooth it out a little. I wanted to make it easier for you. I want you to have a chance at what I had. But I do not want you to have to run away to get it.”
Women had been central to the civil rights movement – Diane Nash, Ella Baker, Dorothy Height and many others – but were only included in the program that day after one woman spoke up.
3. The most prominent white speaker was called the ‘white Martin Luther King’
Walter Reuther was the head of the United Automobile Workers, which provided office space, staff and funding for the march in Detroit and the March on Washington