Thank Mahalia Jackson for King's "I have a dream."
January 21, 2002 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Thank Mahalia Jackson for King's "I have a dream." "On August 28, 1963, under a nearly cloudless sky, more than 250,000 people, a fifth of them white, gathered near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to rally for 'jobs and freedom.'... Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had originally prepared a short and somewhat formal recitation of the sufferings of African Americans attempting to realize their freedom in a society chained by discrimination. He was about to sit down when gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called out, 'Tell them about your dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!' Encouraged by shouts from the audience, King drew upon some of his past talks, and the result became the landmark statement of civil rights in America--a dream of all people, of all races and colors and backgrounds, sharing in an America marked by freedom and democracy."
posted by Carol Anne (16 comments total)
Sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it.
posted by niceness at 9:18 AM on January 21, 2002

I thought this story was interesting, More Than a Dream:
"The problem is, we hear King describe what a harmonious society would be like, but not how or when he intends to establish one. This is the subtle but vital failing of the "Dream" sound byte -- though, notably, not the speech taken as a whole."
posted by owillis at 9:24 AM on January 21, 2002

Bonus points for link, Carol Anne--great post.
posted by y2karl at 9:27 AM on January 21, 2002

y2karl: Credit Joel Connelly of the Seattle P-I for starting my Web search.
posted by Carol Anne at 9:33 AM on January 21, 2002

As I understand the story, King had prepared a speech that was built around an elaborate, tedious metaphor of America's check to its black citizens having bounced, and that the protestors were there to collect on insufficient funds, etc...

The "dream" portion of King's speech was one he had used in speeches in the past, usually to smaller crowds in churchier settings, where he felt he needed to be more rousing than rational. If it was indeed Mahalia Jackson who urged him to change his tone, then she showed good judgement.
posted by argybarg at 9:44 AM on January 21, 2002

"I have a dream ... of hand-outs, lower standards and quotas!"

Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?
posted by dagny at 10:18 AM on January 21, 2002

"I have a dream ... of hand-outs, lower standards and quotas!"

Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?

Save it for LBJ Day, buddy.
posted by noisemartyr at 10:25 AM on January 21, 2002 [1 favorite]

Having (just now) re-read the speach in it's entirety I think it makes a much more powerful statement than the impression I've always gotten from soundbites.

As a (more often than not) conservative whose about as white as they come, I applaud both the sentiment and prose of it. My seven year old is getting him read to him tonight.
posted by revbrian at 10:43 AM on January 21, 2002

They played Driving Miss Daisy on tv this weekend. There's a scene where Miss Daisy goes to see Martin Luther King speak, but she leaves Hoke in the car, and there's an empty chair next to her the whole time, but you can see the neurons firing behind the eyes of the old woman. And thanks to the complementary words of Mr. King, the point's driven home. It's a great film.

Just as I've never known a world in which man hadn't reached the moon, I've never known a world that didn't have Mr. King's dream composed in the intangible yet gripping form of his powerful voice. There may be a few more generations before we've weeded out all the ignorance and apathy. It takes more than skin color to determine the makings of any man. It doesn't start with external influences. It starts from within each individual, and that was what Mr. King understood. We've made a lot of progress since we lost Mr. King, but we still have a long way to go, yet so long as we keep his words alive, we haven't really lost him or his dream.

Rev. Jesse Jackson has said it so much, it sounds campy now, but by honoring this day we keep the hope alive, and we keep his dream alive.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:11 AM on January 21, 2002

It's certainly one of the greatest American speeches, perhaps one of the greatest of all time. I'm not certain that King's neglecting to spell out a road map really is a failing. It may be that stepping aside from such quotidian considerations was exactly what made this speech electrifying, a way of reaching out not only to the disparate blacks in the audience, but also to the whites, and by extension to the rest of America. He found the emotionally resonant imagery to speak to people who might not have taken the time to listen to a 'check cashing' speech. (I can only imagine what the National Review would do to such a speech today!)

One of Jackson's failings, clearly, is his getting caught up in a kind of transactional politics, such as the much-derided corporate boycotts leading to affirmative-action contract-letting. People think he's out there for Jesse, not out there for Martin's dream.
posted by dhartung at 11:26 AM on January 21, 2002

Not to change the subject, but if you too can say "I have a dream," submit the details to the Internet's collective dream diary Slow Wave.
posted by LeLiLo at 12:10 PM on January 21, 2002

To clarify, Carol Anne, I meant more the Lea Gilmore's - It's A Girl Thang! link, which I'm always linking to in my notes on my show. She's not the most academic in detail but there's no other resource like hers on the Net. The post link was great, too, of course...
posted by y2karl at 1:08 PM on January 21, 2002

Mahalia Jackson deserves thanks for inspiring the "I Have a Dream" speech, plus a whole lot more. Her style and delivery were the main inspiration for Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and basically, the whole southern soul genre. Not to mention her own prodigious output(I'm listening to "Didn't It Rain" as I type this). And if y2karl is correct, she ran a nifty chicken restaurant in Memphis too.
owillis - None of us have completely hashed out the details of realizing Dr. King's dream. But Dr. King was the man who finally convinced the great mass of people that it needed to be realized, and for that we should be eternally grateful.
posted by jonmc at 5:37 PM on January 21, 2002

And if y2karl is correct,

I seen it--Mose knows...
posted by y2karl at 5:48 PM on January 21, 2002

They just replayed the entire speech on CNN. It's an astonishing speech. His "Mountaintop" speech is also excellent, and especially poignant because he gave it the night before he was killed.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:08 PM on January 21, 2002

And here's the "official" Martin Luther King, Jr. site.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:41 PM on January 21, 2002

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