9 things about MLK's speech and the March on Washington

"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 bas...

Posted: Jan 21, 2019 7:11 AM

"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 for Jobs and Freedom. He was the seventh speaker listed on the program, and shared his remarks to the crowd.

"We will not solve education or housing or public accommodations as long as millions of Negroes are treated as second-class economic citizens and denied jobs," he said.

In 1998, Time Magazine included him in its list of Builders & Titans Of The 20th Century. Irving Bluestone, Reuther's former administrative assistant, shared this popular story to explain who Reuther was at the March on Washington: "Standing close to the podium were two elderly women. As (Reuther) was introduced, one of the women was overheard asking her friend, 'Who is Walter Reuther?' The response: 'Walter Reuther? He's the white Martin Luther King.'"

4. An openly gay man organized the march in less than two months

Bayard Rustin is "the most important leader of the civil rights movement you probably have never heard of," as LZ Granderson put it in a CNN column. Not only did he organize the march in a matter of months, Rustin is credited with teaching King about nonviolence. He also helped raise funds for the Montgomery bus boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Council.

During the time, his sexual orientation was known, and he was often in the background to prevent it from being used against the movement.

Rustin, who died in 1987, was honored with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2013.

5. It wasn't the first planned 'March on Washington'

Labor leader and civil rights advocate A. Philip Randolph had threatened a "March for Freedom" on the National Mall in 1941 to pressure then-President Franklin Roosevelt to provide equal opportunity for defense jobs. Randolph hired Rustin to organize part of the march, which they felt was the only way to prompt action after numerous appeals.

It worked: The march was called off after Roosevelt established the Fair Employment Practices Committee, abolishing racial discrimination in hiring.

6. The march was a Hollywood star-studded event

Popular actor and singer Harry Belafonte used his star power to help bring other celebrities to the March on Washington. Besides reaching out to the stars themselves, Belafonte went to many of the studio heads in Hollywood to get prominent actors and actresses temporarily released from their duties so they could participate.

He was successful. The Hollywood list of attendees that day read like a who's who of A-listers: Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., Charlton Heston and Burt Lancaster, who also gave a speech.

But having the Hollywood stars there wasn't just for show or for increased media attention. It also helped calm President John F. Kennedy's nerves about the march.

"I believe that their presence did a lot to assuage people who were preoccupied with the fact there could be violence," Belafonte said.

"One of the things that I said in my conversations with the Kennedys in discussing why they should be more yielding in their support of our demonstration was the fact that there would be such a presence of highly profiled artists -- that that alone would put anxiety to rest," he added.

"People would be looking at the occasion in a far more festive way."

7. One march worker fell asleep during MLK's speech

Back in 1963, college student Patricia Worthy took a job answering phones for the March on Washington's planning office. She had 10 phone lines to answer, and they rang from the time she walked in until she left for the day.

"I recall one day I'll never forget, I heard someone say, 'Where is this young lady who handles the phone?' And finally I looked up, and there he was -- Dr. King -- and he said, 'I want to meet this young lady. She has put me on the hold twice, and hung up on me once, and I want to know who she is.' "

Worthy said she was "so embarrassed," but then the civil rights icon gave her a hug.

By the day of the march, she was so tired, she dozed off and accidentally slept through the historic march and the "I Have a Dream" speech.

Everything worked out for her in the end: Worthy had a successful career in law and academia.

8. Another hitchhiked all the way from Alabama only to have MLK check in on him

Robert Avery and two of his friends hitchhiked nearly 700 miles from Gadsden, Alabama, to Washington to participate in the march.

Avery, who was 15 years old at the time, was no stranger to the dark side of the civil rights movement. A few months earlier, he was struck by a cattle prod wielded by Alabama police during anti-segregation demonstrations in Gadsden.

The three youths arrived in the nation's capital a week before the march after three days of hitchhiking, and they were put to work making signs for the event.

At one point, King walked in and asked for them. He had been in Gadsden the night before, and their parents had asked the civil rights leader to check on them.

King sat down with the three and talked to them for about 20 minutes, asking them about their dreams, Avery later recalled.

9. 'I Have a Dream' beat JFK's 'Ask not what you can do' speech

There's no doubt that King's speech was the most memorable part of the March on Washington. It's still taught in school, and memorized by children, half a century later.

But how does it compare against other pivotal speeches by 20th century leaders, such as John F. Kennedy or Franklin D. Roosevelt?

Well, a panel of more than 130 scholars got together in 1999 to rate the best speeches of the 20th century and King's speech ranked No. 1.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 479326

Reported Deaths: 9353
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison32779484
Hinds30924582
DeSoto30319353
Jackson23542341
Rankin21235366
Lee14803219
Madison14120271
Jones13327223
Forrest13078236
Lauderdale11501303
Lowndes10377176
Lamar10163130
Pearl River9008217
Lafayette8193137
Hancock7404111
Oktibbeha6909122
Washington6900150
Monroe6459159
Neshoba6441201
Warren6387163
Pontotoc623093
Panola6203125
Bolivar6072144
Marshall6068121
Union571386
Pike5574135
Alcorn533289
Lincoln5283131
George466072
Scott454796
Leflore4444140
Prentiss443377
Tippah442180
Itawamba441599
Adams4376116
Tate4327101
Simpson4313112
Wayne430766
Copiah429587
Yazoo419686
Covington413292
Sunflower4123104
Marion4073104
Leake395486
Coahoma391098
Newton367274
Grenada3543104
Stone350359
Tishomingo333288
Attala324286
Jasper313162
Winston303091
Clay294173
Chickasaw286265
Clarke279890
Calhoun263940
Holmes261387
Smith248048
Yalobusha219647
Tallahatchie217550
Walthall209958
Greene206845
Lawrence205732
Perry198553
Amite197651
Webster195042
Noxubee177739
Montgomery171654
Jefferson Davis167442
Carroll161437
Tunica150834
Benton141533
Kemper138039
Claiborne126134
Choctaw126026
Humphreys125937
Franklin116328
Quitman103426
Wilkinson101536
Jefferson87333
Sharkey62320
Issaquena1926
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 778549

Reported Deaths: 13665
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1105871747
Mobile704651206
Madison49152610
Baldwin35946479
Shelby35796302
Tuscaloosa33410532
Montgomery32906672
Lee22231216
Calhoun20791397
Morgan19605326
Etowah18837449
Marshall17465272
Houston16452368
St. Clair15233293
Limestone14376182
Cullman14348246
Elmore14241256
Lauderdale13298278
Talladega12699230
DeKalb12036233
Walker10430323
Autauga9568133
Blount9555152
Jackson9235146
Coffee8728169
Colbert8426179
Dale8410170
Escambia6526114
Tallapoosa6501172
Covington6396163
Chilton6293141
Russell598555
Franklin5719100
Chambers5315133
Marion4734115
Dallas4665182
Clarke457076
Pike456294
Geneva4315116
Winston417192
Lawrence4086108
Bibb401680
Barbour341968
Marengo323183
Butler314988
Monroe314652
Pickens300470
Randolph299955
Henry298356
Hale289383
Cherokee284652
Fayette275672
Washington244848
Crenshaw235168
Clay225163
Macon217657
Cleburne217149
Lamar192140
Conecuh179646
Lowndes170158
Coosa166432
Wilcox155736
Bullock147742
Perry136036
Sumter124136
Greene120142
Choctaw72826
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Partly Cloudy
70° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 70°
Columbus
Partly Cloudy
72° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 72°
Oxford
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 70°
Starkville
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 70°
Canadian high pressure will continue to build into our area over the next few days. This will bring into our area some of the coolest air of the season so far. Some folks will see overnight lows down into the middle to upper 40s.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather