Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Today is the 50th Anniversary of MLK’s I Have a Dream Speech

Most people have heard clips from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech that was delivered August 28, 1963 in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  In fact, I’m willing to bet that these clips are the only things many people know about this event.  Have you ever heard the entire speech?  If not, I’ve included it in this post.  Are you aware that there was much more going on that day than this speech?  To be fair, it’s not surprising that Dr. King’s words overshadowed everything else about this march.  After all, it is, with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, one of the two greatest speeches in American history.  There’s a lot more about this event that should not be forgotten, though.  And I’ve got two names for you: A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.

Many people might be thinking “who?” and that is a little sad, but it is also a testament to the impact King’s speech had on the general public.  It’s sad because Randolph and Rustin were two early leaders in the Civil Rights movement who planned a march on Washington back in 1941 to protest the fact that blacks were being prevented from getting jobs in the defense industry.  President Franklin Roosevelt met with them before the march and agreed to issue an executive order declaring that all defense industry jobs be desegregated for the duration of WWII.  When the war ended Randolph was instrumental in getting President Harry Truman to desegregate the armed forces in 1948.
A. Philip Randolph
Randolph had been involved in politics and movements early on in his life.  He was the President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters – the first black workers union.  His concerns were primarily job opportunities for blacks.  Rustin was a bit more “radical”.  In addition to wanting civil rights for blacks, he also fought for gay rights, something very close to his heart since he was gay himself.

By 1963 President John Kennedy had presented a Civil Rights bill to Congress for debate.  In support of that bill Randolph and Rustin organized another march on Washington and this time it was carried out.  The thing is, it was as much or more concerned with the economy as it was civil rights.  The official name of it was the March for Jobs and Freedom.  Dr. King was not the only speaker there that day; in fact, he was the tenth and final speaker.  A. Philip Randolph gave the opening speech and it was about the lack of job opportunities.  Other speakers such as Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers; Joachim Prinz, president of the American Jewish Congress; and Roy Wilkins, leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People followed.

Bayard Rustin
By the time Dr. King came to the podium the prior speakers had more than covered the topics about the economic concerns of the march, so Dr. King concentrated on the Freedom portion of it.  And it is probably a good thing that no one had to give a speech after him since his skills as an orator were among the best ever heard.  With a series of rising and falling pitches in his voice he leads the crowd to his powerful conclusion – the aforementioned clips that are all that many know of this entire event.

Here is the entire 17 minute speech of Dr. King’s that I promised.  While you listen to it just don’t forget that if it were not for the efforts of people like A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, this speech, as we know it today, would not exist.

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