How 'I have a dream' went from 'trite' into history

How 'I have a dream' went from 'trite' into history
Martin Luther King III (R) shakes hands with a participant as he and Rev. Al Sharpton (C) prepare to march down Woodward Avenue for the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Freedom Walk in Detroit June 22, 2013.

WASHINGTON - It's the most memorable line from one of history's greatest speeches, yet civil rights leader Martin Luther King never planned to say "I have a dream" when he addressed the March on Washington a half-century ago.

King was the last speaker of the day when he took the lectern on August 28, 1963 and looked out over the unprecedented crowd of 250,000 that filled the National Mall for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

In the hands of the oratorically gifted Baptist preacher from Georgia was a text that he and his associates had painstakingly finalized the night before.

The phrase "I have a dream" was not in it.

"For all King's careful preparation, the part of the speech that went on to enter the history books was added extemporaneously while he was standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, speaking in full flight to the crowd," wrote US-based columnist Gary Younge of Britain's Guardian newspaper in an excerpt of his new book "The Speech."

King had used the "I have a dream" line before, including in a sermon in Detroit recorded by Motown two months earlier. But King's adviser Wyatt Walker counselled against its re-use, contending it was "trite" and "cliche" and basically unworthy of a nationally televised event.

King, introduced to the National Mall rally as "the moral leader of our nation," himself told graduate student Donald Smith later that year that he had "just all of a sudden" decided on the fly to invoke the dream.

He might have been swayed on the spot by Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who performed earlier in the day, when she shouted out at him: "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin!"

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