Dr. King was about halfway through his prepared speech when Mahalia Jackson… shouted out to him from the speakers’ stand: “Tell ’em about the ‘Dream,’ Martin, tell ’em about the ‘Dream’!” She was referring to a riff he had delivered on earlier occasions, and Dr. King pushed the text of his remarks to the side and began an extraordinary improvisation on the dream theme that would become one of the most recognizable refrains in the world.
Kakutani’s notes King’s ability to “convey the urgency of his arguments through language richly layered with biblical and historical meanings.” And then there’s the evidence of King’s legacy today. The speech “can still move people to tears,” she writes. Just as King was inspired by the Bible and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, President Obama was inspired by King. Kakutani writes:
President Obama, who once wrote about his mother’s coming home “with books on the civil rights movement, the recordings of Mahalia Jackson, the speeches of Dr. King,” has described the leaders of the movement as “giants whose shoulders we stand on.” Some of his own speeches owe a clear debt to Dr. King’s ideas and words.
Several newspapers dug through the archives to post their 1963 coverage of the speech, which gives a sense of how the country saw the march when it happened. The New York Times tweeted a PDF of its front page the day after the march:
And The Washington Post released an interactive version of their cover, linking to the full text of the stories. “More than 200,000 persons jammed the Mall here yesterday in the biggest civil rights demonstration in the Nation’s history,” Robert E. Baker wrote in a story published on August 29, 1963 paper. “This was the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’, a one-day rally demanding a breakthrough in civil rights for Negroes.” But as Politico’s Mike Allen notes, the Post didn’t include a single line from King’s speech, only noting he was a speaker at the end of the article.
The Afro-American, a Baltimore weekly paper, went with a bolder headline:
The Dalai Lama, riffing on the “Dream” ideology, posted a YouTube video on Tuesday expressing his own dream, that this century the world might become a global family. “In order to achieve that, we need a sense of oneness of humanity,” he said.
But the most compelling tributes came from people who were there at the march 50 years ago. “You could just feel the energy around, not screaming, not hollering, but an atmosphere of togetherness,” Dr. Shirley Johnson told NBC Miami. “I remember every detail like it was an hour ago, as if it were a film loop in my brain,” David Morrison told Lancaster Online.