Fifty years ago, on 28 August 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom marked an important step in the struggle for civil rights by African Americans, and the most famous part of the event was the speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream.” Dr. King was a Baptist minister and civil rights activist advocating non-violent demonstrations, and he represented the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at the March, one of six large civil rights groups. Dr. King was already a well-known activist by the time of this speech, having been instrumental in several large boycotts and demonstrations throughout the South, but his speech came to be the lasting symbol of the event and is widely acknowledged as one of the best examples of American oratory in history. The speech lasted for 17 minutes, and the most famous lines, those beginning “I have a dream…” by which the speech came to be known, were not part of the written speech and were instead ad-libbed on the spot.
If you have never read or heard the speech in its entirety, now is the time. This compelling and moving speech helped push the civil rights movement along; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed the next year, and Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, as well. These words, so eloquent and important fifty years ago, still have the power to move.
Archives and museums often hold the important pieces surrounding an event such as this, and preserve these pieces for future generations. Read the typed speech, housed at the National Archives and Records Administration, or watch a video on Youtube. Check out some of the other events and programs put on or up by the National Archives or by the National Civil Rights Museum. Remember the words of Dr. King, and work toward the dream.