MLK, Mahalia Jackson and the “I have a dream” speech

One thing I learned this week during the 5oth anniversary of the March on Washington was that a substantial part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech was improvised. ¬†Specifically, the part about having a dream…

While King had used the dream theme in previous speeches, he hadn’t included it in the prepared text for his speech for the March.

But as Drew Hansen wrote in the New York Times earlier this week, King became dissatisfied with how he was concluding his speech. So when singer and activist Mahalia Jackson shouted out behind him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin,” he did just that, and launched into the language that would define his brilliant address to the world.

Mahalia Jackson singing “How I Got Over” at the March on Washington

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One Response to MLK, Mahalia Jackson and the “I have a dream” speech

  1. P Wice says:

    I too learned this week of the ad-lib nature…I think I had herd this before but this confirmed it..what is so powerful about the King “Dream” speech is his ability to move the audience emotionally…with every phrase (repetititon of phrases) he “ratched up “(is “ratch ” a verb or even a word?) his audience so that there was not a usual summary conclusion but a “peak” ending to the speech which, with his lyrical deliervy style (typical black preacher style) makes this – in my opinion (and the opinion of experts)-the best public speech of all time…
    President Obama – in my view-failed to meet expectations for his speech but there is no way he could reach what may have been anticipated…his delivery is “schoarly” and “lawyer-like” while King’s delivery was very much like many Southern Gospel preachers…I thought best speakers of the day were Ophrah and President Clinton (he still has the charisma some 10-15 yers after leaving office)

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