Famed King speech almost didn't include 'I have a dream': author

Mon Aug 26, 2013 8:21am EDT
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By Sharon Bernstein

PALO ALTO, California (Reuters) - Clarence Jones was sitting 50 feet behind his boss, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on the brilliant, sunny day in 1963 when King delivered the speech that would forever change the course of race relations in the United States.

Now, 50 years later, Jones recalls how the words "I have a dream," were not written in the text that King prepared and began to read that day. Instead, King improvised on the spot, reviving a phrase he has used previously with little impact, according to Jones, King's lawyer, speechwriter and confidant.

"I have a dream," King shouted to the crowd, his voice reverberating with emotion, "that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Delivered 50 years ago on Wednesday, King's image of his dream for a better America still inspires the United States. The speech was delivered to more than 250,000 people who came to Washington, D.C., to march for civil rights at a time when it was still illegal for blacks and whites to marry in many states, and just months after protesters in Alabama were set upon with police dogs and fire hoses.

King had spoken before about having a dream for his children, and for America, but the phrase had never really resonated with an audience and the idea was left out of the text for that day's speech altogether, Jones said in an interview with Reuters near his home in Palo Alto. He also recounted the story in his most recent book, "Behind the Dream," which was published in 2011.

King had prepared a text that started with several paragraphs of Jones' writing. As King began to read it, Jones tracked the paragraphs as they went by. The first seven were as he had written them.

One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed U.S. slaves, "the life of the Negro is still badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination," King intoned.

A Baptist preacher with a stirring and charismatic speaking style, King went on, reading parts of the text that he had added to the first few paragraphs by Jones.   Continued...

Clarence B. Jones who wrote speeches for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and attended the rally on August 28, 1963, where King gave his ground breaking speech, reflects on the event in Palo Alto, California, August 21, 2013. REUTERS/Norbert von der Groeben