August 28 marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The historic rally, which attracted more than 250,000 people to the United States capital, Washington, D.C., was marked by one of the most famous speeches given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., titled “I Have a Dream.”
The 1963 March on Washington, as it is more commonly known, was one of the largest human rights demonstrations in the U.S. history. Conceived in 1962 by A. Philip Randolph, a civil rights activist who sought to improve the socio-economic conditions of African Americans, the rally idea initially didn’t get much support from other leaders. But Randolph eventually convinced the heads of five major civil rights organizations, including Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Whitney Young Jr. of the National Urban League, James Farmer of the Conference of Racial Equality (CORE), John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and Dr. King, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
The March on Washington caught the attention of President John F. Kennedy, who decided to meet with the leaders and speakers of the rally, including Dr. King, at the White House. The March on Washington is widely credited for aiding the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Dr. King's eloquent and inspiring speech gave us the now iconic phrases "I Have a Dream" and “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” (its concluding line), but the full speech is well worth reading.
Here's an exerpt from a transcript of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech:
"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, my friends, we have the difficulties of today and tomorrow.
I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."
Read the full "I have a Dream" speech here.