On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., electrified the nation when he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In The Dream, Drew D. Hansen explores the fascinating and little-known history of King's legendary address. The Dream insightfully considers how King's speech "has slowly remade the American imagination," and led us closer to King's visionary goal of a redeemed America.
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About the Author
Drew D. Hansen, a Harvard graduate and a Rhodes Scholar, studied theology at Oxford University, and went on to earn his J.D. at Yale Law School. He practices law in Seattle.
Read an Excerpt
The DreamMartin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation
By Drew Hansen
The March on Washington for
Jobs and Freedom
Some of the marchers left a few days early so that they would be sure to reach Washington by August 28, 1963. A Los Angeles pants presser named David Parker loaded five friends into his Ford and set off across the country because, as he later told a reporter, his people had troubles. In Brooklyn, twelve young members of CORE started walking the 237 miles to the capital. The Local 593 Mine, Mill, and Smelter workers took up a collection at the Anaconda American Brass Company plant in Buffalo and gave it to the NAACP to pay the fares of unemployed workers who wanted to go to Washington. Forty unemployed men from Cleveland, Mississippi, took the bus up North after raising the thirty-three-dollar fare by selling shares in their tickets at a dollar apiece.
In Chicago, the passengers of two chartered trains crowded together at the station to listen to final instructions from their captains. Then the trains took off for the overnight trip to Washington. A three-piece jazz combo set up at the end of one car and played tunes for the riders. Some passengers sang along:
This train don't carry no liars, this train ...
This train is bound for glory, this train ...
Six buses left Alabama on Tuesday morning, August 27, with garment bags holding fresh clothes hanging from the overhead handrails. Some passengers started the trip singing, but as the twenty-two-hour journey went on, they began to talk about what it meant for them to go to Washington. Many of the marchers had been beaten by Bull Connor's troops or had spent time in the Birmingham jail. "They ought to know who we are," said one. "After all, we're the ones who started the whole freedom movement."
In the days before August 28, buses, cars, and trains from all over the country set out for Washington. Three buses with more than one hundred demonstrators left from the General Baptist Convention headquarters in Milwaukee. A chartered train left Pittsburgh, and another one left Detroit. A caravan of two hundred cars set out from North Carolina. Buses left Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
In Boston, a teacher at the Freedom School in Roxbury abandoned her plans to fly to the march and climbed aboard a bus. A sixty-seven-year-old dressmaker from Memphis said to herself, "I'm going to lay aside my patterns and be a part of it." A cabdriver from New York drove his cab for awhile on Tuesday evening and then said, "That's it. I'm going to Washington because it's a duty that has to be done."
On Tuesday night, a band of SNCC staff members joined teenagers from Albany, Georgia, in a vigil at the Department of Justice. Earlier in August, the Department had indicted several members of the Albany movement for obstruction of justice, in an action arising out of their boycott of a white man's store. Justice attorneys believed the boycott had been called because the store owner had served on a jury that had dismissed a civil suit brought by a black man who had been shot in the neck by a white sheriff. The Albany activists insisted that they were protesting the store's racist hiring practices. They wondered why their relatively insignificant boycott was attracting so much federal attention when the government had not prevented the Albany police from assaulting the city's black citizens. One SNCC member carried a sign that read "when there is no justice, what is the state, but a robber band enlarged?" Another sign proclaimed "even the federal government is a white man."
At one-thirty in the morning on Wednesday, August 28, whole blocks of Harlem had all their lights on as residents gathered at bus depots, community houses, and churches to cheer the departing marchers. "You tell them, tell them for me," yelled people in the crowd as the marchers filed onto the buses that lined 125th street for a block on each side. "They look just like soldiers going off," said an elderly woman. One man shouted, "Tell them I want a job!" A decorated veteran told a reporter, "If I was proud of these medals I wouldn't be on this bus. It makes my blood boil to see Negroes dying for our country and then kids not able to go to school in Little Rock or Virginia." By dawn on Wednesday, according to FBI surveillance figures, 972 chartered buses and 13 special trains, carrying a total of 55,000 people, had left New York for Washington.
The FBI field offices - mindful of the director's insistence that surveillance of the marchers was the "personal and continuing responsibility" of the special agents in charge - deployed agents across the nation to track the demonstrators' progress. The Knoxville office notified headquarters when an NAACP-chartered bus carrying thirty-five passengers had left Chattanooga. The Phoenix field office provided the names of the four Phoenix residents who were driving to Washington. An agent watched as the Houston delegation boarded a Greyhound bus (license number T-345) and counted the people on it ("fifteen Negro males, and nine Negro females"). One hundred forty field agents were dispatched to Union Station and the D.C. area airports to observe the marchers' arrivals and departures, with instructions to keep a particular watch for "subversives."
As the buses from all over the country rolled through the August night, people who couldn't make the trip gathered on the shoulders of highways to cheer the marchers along the way. At toll booths, passengers noticed that local farmers had brought their children out to watch the caravans. A few buses made an early morning stop at a church, where volunteers had been up all night preparing breakfast for bus after bus that came through. Early on Wednesday morning, the first demonstrators reached Washington ...
Excerpted from The Dream by Drew Hansen
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
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