9 Fascinating Facts About MLK’s Historic Speech: “I Have a Dream”

Nine lesser-known facts about Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 speech and march on Washington.

Sal
Sal
Jan 2 · 7 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Photo Credits: NBC News

Many influential people have given remarkable speeches over the years, but there are very few that linger and stick around in your head. Leaders and advocates thrive on exceptional public speaking, using motivation and inspiration as a tool to stir the emotions of the people they are addressing.

One such speech that has resonated with people for decades is the exemplary ‘I Have a Dream,’ delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial for the 1963 March on Washington.

Last year, on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington for jobs and freedom, Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter delivered an inspirational and touching speech of her own. At the age of just 12, she managed to address the people effectively and motivate them to fight for the very causes her grandfather had fought for.

Given that textbooks don’t often portray the whole picture, I’m going to present to you nine less-known facts about Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 speech and the jobs and freedom march on Washington.

1) ‘The dream’ almost never made it to the final speech delivered by MLK.

The speech that Martin Luther King Jr. had prepared for this occasion was to be called “Normalcy Never Again.”

His advisor, Rv. Wyatt Tee Walker had suggested that King should move away from the “Dream” he often referred to in his previous speeches and instead incorporate new elements into this speech. “Don’t use the lines about ‘I have a dream’; it’s cliché,” stated Walker.

His advisor felt that the idea of the “Dream” speech had been overused by King, calling it “hackneyed and trite.” And so, King went into the address, having removed the “I have a dream” section from the final draft.

However, as King was delivering his speech, he didn’t feel satisfied. He wanted the speech to be robust and leave an impact, and so when he heard gospel singer Mahalia Jackson yell,

“Tell ’em about the dream, Martin”

King set his manuscript aside. After a brief pause, he grabbed the podium and stated, “I still have a dream.” This courageous act shifted the tone of the speech and gave King the confidence to leave a lasting impact on the audience. Even his advisor later admitted that King had made the right move.

2) ‘I Have a Dream’ was not crafted by MLK alone.

King had worked relentlessly on his speech and edited it time and time again to make the final draft perfect.

However, the magnificent speech he delivered at the Lincoln Memorial was not entirely his work. Stanley Levison and Clearance Jones had penned the first draft of the speech, and many of his staff members had offered their opinions to create the final draft.

While part of King’s speech was improvised, the final version that he delivered was the work of many minds coming together.

3) Female Speakers were not included in the initial speaking schedule for the march.

Image for post
Image for post
Josephine Baker | Photo Credits: BlackPast

Countless women participated in the Civil Rights Movement and made significant contributions to it.

The list of revolutionary women in the movement was long, but unfortunately, the men ran the show. And so, women were nearly left off the official program for the March. This did not come as a big surprise at the time.

Anna Arnold Hedgeman, a member of the staff of the Commission on Religion and Race of the National Council of Churches, was the only woman invited to be on the March’s administrative committee. She took up a stand against the committee, who had decided not to include any female speaker in the program, and argued that women’s efforts should be acknowledged. Hence, a “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” was added to the program, and upon further insistence, a woman was invited to lead the tribute.

“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 kneel-in, and we will lie-in if necessary until every Negro in America can vote. This we pledge to the women of America.” said Daisy Bates, President of the Arkansas NAACP, as she took onto the stage.

Josephine Baker, a famous American entertainer, was also given a chance to speak, and she addressed the crowd by saying, “You know I have always taken the rocky path. I never took the easy one, but as I got older and 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.”

4) One of the main organizers of the march was a gay man.

Image for post
Image for post
Bayard Rustin | Photo Credits: Inquirer

Only a few know of the man who contributed significantly to the 1963 March on Washington, Bayard Rustin.

The civil rights activists counted heavily on Rustin’s work; however, he was not often acknowledged because he was gay. Rustin, who had actively fought for peace and equal rights, worked tirelessly to put together the largest demonstration ever organized in the country within just two months.

Rustin also firmly urged King to steer clear of violence, and he also helped fundraise for the Montgomery bus boycott. As a firm dedicated individual, he chose to remain behind the scenes in the fear that his sexual orientation would be used as an excuse to smear the campaign for civil rights. It was after his death that President Obama honored his service, awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

5) Hollywood stars played a significant role in drawing attention to the march.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo Credits: Variety

A crucial strategy of the campaign was to get some of the biggest celebrities on board who would take part in the demonstration and show their support. Hollywood stars like Josephine Baker, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., James Garner, Marlon Brando, and Paul Newman attended. Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan performed musical acts to alleviate the atmosphere.

Harry Belafonte not only reached out to many of his co-stars to attend the demonstration but also called the Hollywood studio managers to allow the actors a day off so they could attend. This strategy was adopted to raise mainstream attention through media coverage and alleviate any crime and violence fears. The result was successful and gained support from President John F. Kennedy as well.

6) King feared that his suite was wiretapped.

A lot of planning and preparation goes into organizing speeches and marches, and the hustle continues until the start of the action.

The night before King delivered his speech, he met with his advisors to review the final version. They were afraid that at the Willard Hotel, King’s suite was not safe enough and could easily be wiretapped, so instead, they met in the lobby to address the speech.

7) A college basketball player served as MLK’s bodyguard.

Image for post
Image for post
George Raveling | Photo Credits 247 Sports

George Raveling is the man who eventually ended up with the type-written speech given by King.

Raveling was a college basketball player at Villanova, and during the March, the organizers saw him in the crowd and asked if he could act as King’s bodyguard. Standing alongside King, he requested the paper copy of the speech. King obliged, and the original, typewritten speech is now locked away by the former basketball coach with no intention to sell it.

8) The speeches did not receive much media attention at the time.

The infamous speech delivered by King is celebrated and analyzed as one of the most significant discourses in history.

However, at the time, different newspapers and other media outlets concentrated on the scale and nature of the March itself, instead of reporting the speeches given. Hence during the King’s lifetime, the address was not given much notice. It was only years later that people discovered how King’s speech was brilliantly written and delivered.

9) King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ outshined JFK’s ‘Ask not what you can do speech’.

In 1999, Dr. King’s speech was ranked as the greatest of the 20th century by a jury of over 130 academics.

President Kennedy himself understood what a pivotal speech it was, commending King by saying, “He’s damned good.” It is a fact we can all accept that the speech was groundbreaking and awe-inspiring, and perhaps one of the best speeches to ever have been delivered.

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share…

Sign up for Lessons from History

By Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history.  Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Sal

Written by

Sal

Freelance Writer. History Fanatic. Contact: https://heylink.me/sal_ali/

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history. The objective is to promote history on Medium and demonstrate the value of historical writing.

Sal

Written by

Sal

Freelance Writer. History Fanatic. Contact: https://heylink.me/sal_ali/

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history. The objective is to promote history on Medium and demonstrate the value of historical writing.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store