It's 'I have a dream' day
In the USA, it's still the 28th of August, and the 60th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr's 'I have a dream' speech.
Here it is! The full speech is finally up on YouTube which I only just realised. The text is on Speakola for those who want to read along.
My favourite podcast is ‘The Rest is History’, and during their recent visit to Washington, Tom Holland and Declan Brook sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and talked about Dr King’s speech, and it’s an absolute gem:
They are such funny and interesting presenters. At the beginning of many episodes, Tom will perform a speech from history, complete with hammy accent, and it sets the scene and the tone of the show better than any actual audio would.
But with ‘I have a dream’, there was a blanket ban on Martin Luther King impressions, and wisely too, because in oratory terms, it’s a mountaintop that mortals shouldn’t even attempt to climb.
The episode’s focus on the day itself starts at 26.00, although I’d recommend the set up as well. Some details I didn’t know about the March on Washington:
Marlon Brando was walking around carrying an electric cattle prod, to symbolise police brutality;
People were leaving, it was hot and it had been a long day, when Dr King was ready to speak;
Tom says that the under-card of the previous 15 speakers ‘weren’t that great, people had heard it all before’. I do think that John Lewis was great that day.
‘Fierce urgency of now’ was a call back to Letter from Birmingham jail;
There was debate going on in King’s inner circle about whether he should use the ‘I have a dream’ motif that he had used before. One aide, Wyatt T Walker, said to him, ‘do not use ‘I have a dream’, it’s too trite’.
The night before the speech, Dr King had stayed up till 4am in his room, rehearsing and thinking about the speech. When he retired for the night, he said to aides, ‘I am now going up to my room to counsel with my lord’.
Legends abound about whether Dr King was always going to use the ‘I have a dream’ ending, or whether it was an ad lib. Some version have jazz legend Mahalia Jackson requesting the riff, almost like a fan putting a dime into a jukebox. She was on stage, but the microphones don’t pick up any audio. When we had King scholar Clayborne Carson on Speakola podcast, he didn’t believe Jackson said ‘tell em about the dream’ - that the story is apocryphal.
Declan also explains that a sneaky candidate for my favourite paragraph in ‘I have a dream’ is borrowed directly from The Book of Isaiah. I always wondered how King found such poetic and idiosyncratic metaphors: