Marking 50 years since a speech that changed America
Fifty years ago today, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech that inspired America — and shamed it into honoring the principles on which it was founded.
Clarence Jones, who co-wrote an early draft of the "I Have a Dream" speech, recently recalled to TheWrap how King came to deliver the most famous part of his speech for the March on Washington. As he looked out at the crowd, King said it would "go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation."
King was well into his prepared remarks, Jones said, when his favorite gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, cried out, "Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream."
And then King went off his script.
"When Mahalia shouted to him, I was standing about 50 feet behind him… and I saw it happening in real time. He just took the text of his speech and moved it to the left side of the lectern. … And I said to somebody standing next to me: 'These people don't know it, but they're about to go to church.' I said that because I could see his body language change from the rear. Where he had been reading, like giving a lecture, but then going into his Baptist preacher mode," said Jones.
"Had there been anyone else — anyone else — who had shouted anything to him — I think he would have been a little taken aback. I'm not so sure he would have departed from the text of his speech. But Mahalia Jackson was his favorite gospel singer. When Mahalia said that it was almost like a mandate to respond."
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