August 28, 2013 – The March on Washington

Dr. King delivering his "I Have A Dream" speech

Dr. King delivering his “I Have A Dream” speech

This extraordinary rally for jobs and freedom for blacks was the setting for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. As one participant explains in this excellent oral history on the Smithsonian Magazine website:

You have to back up and think about what was happening at the time. Nationally, in 1962, you have James Meredith, the first black to attend the University of Mississippi, that was national news. In May 1963, Bull Connor with the dogs and the fire hoses, turning them on people, front-page news. And then in June, that summer, you have Medgar Evers shot down in the South, and his body actually on view on 14th Street at a church in D.C. So you had a group of individuals who had been not just oppressed, but discriminated against and killed because of their color. The March on Washington symbolized a rising up, if you will, of people who were saying enough is enough.”

Photo by Stanley Tretick of Look Magazine

Photo by Stanley Tretick of Look Magazine

Dr. King inspired not only the 250,000-some participants who were at the rally, but his speech has continued to inspire generations long after that day. In fact, in 1999, 137 leading scholars of American public address named it number one of the 100 best political speeches of the 20th century, based on both its social and political impact, and rhetorical artistry. You can read the words here, or watch it for yourself, on this video:

Afternote: On Sunday, September 15, 1963, presumably in response to King’s speech, Klansmen set off a bomb in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, instantly killing four little girls between the ages of 11 and 14. Twenty-two additional children were injured. More than 8,000 mourners, but no city officials, attended the funeral service. The four who committed the crime were not convicted until after the case was reopened several times. (One died before being charged, one was convicted in 1978, and the other two were not convicted until 2000.)

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