The Speech

The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DELIVERED his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963. Fifty years later, the speech endures as a defining moment in the civil rights movement. It continues to be heralded as a beacon in the ongoing struggle for racial equality.

This gripping book is rooted in new and important interviews with Clarence Jones, a close friend of and draft speechwriter for Martin Luther King Jr., and Joan Baez, a singer at the march, as well as Angela Davis and other leading civil rights leaders. It brings to life the fascinating chronicle behind “The Speech” and other events surrounding the March on Washington. Younge skillfully captures the spirit of that historic day in Washington and offers a new generation of readers a critical modern analysis of why “I Have a Dream” remains America’s favorite speech.

From the Introduction:

It was over eighty degrees when Martin Luther King Jr. took the stage at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. King was the last speaker. By the time he reached the podium many in the crowd had started to leave. Not all those who remained could hear him properly, but those who could stood rapt. “Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed,” said King as though he were wrapping up. “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.” Then he set his prepared text aside. [Clarence] Jones saw his stance turn from lecturer to preacher. He turned to the person next to him: “Those people don’t know it but they’re about to go to church.” A smattering of applause filled a pause more pregnant than most.

“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”

Click through to read an excerpt of The Speech in The Guardian.

Davey D's interview with Gary Younge — 50 Years Later: The Critical Backstory to Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech

About the author

GARY YOUNGE is an author, broadcaster, and award-winning columnist for the Guardian, based in Chicago. He also writes a monthly column for The Nation magazine and is the Alfred Knobler Fellow for The Nation Institute.

Born in Britain to Barbadian parents, Younge reported all over Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean before being appointed the Guardian’s US correspondent in 2003. In 2009 he won Britain’s prestigious James Cameron Award for “combined moral vision and professional integrity.”

His first book, No Place Like Home: A Black Briton’s Journey through the Deep South, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. His third book, Who Are We—and Should It Matter in the 21st Century?, was shortlisted for the Bristol Festival of Ideas Book Prize. The Speech is his fourth book.

Video

A Dream Deferred? MLK, Trayvon, and the Fight Against Racism Today

Gary Younge discusses the context of the March on Washington:

Reviews

"[In] this slim but powerful book... Younge is adept at both distilling the facts and asking blunt questions."
Boston Globe

"Unequivocal . . ."
Financial Times

"[An] often highly entertaining saga of the clashing egos engaged in the drafting... [with] a compelling, beat-by-beat analysis of a myth's creation: King's delivery of 'the Speech' on the day."
The Independent

"Younge provides new insight into the roles of key civil rights leaders in a captivating story that is eloquently written and punctuated with surprising detail. More importantly, the book sheds new light on Dr. King and paints him in a way that portrays the true grit and determination that stuck with him like the many followers he inspired and led."
The Grio

"Martin Luther King's 1963 'I have a dream' speech was a thrilling milestone in the civil rights movement, so enduring that we tend to attribute its searing power to a kind of magic. But Gary Younge's meditative retrospection on its significance reminds us of all the micro-moments of transformation behind the scenes--the thought and preparation, vision and revision--whose currency fed that magnificent lightning bolt in history."
—Patricia J. Williams

"It is refreshing to find an opus like this being published on the 50th anniversary to remind us of the true meaning of Dr. King’s moving remarks. Younge... does a masterful job of not only dissecting Dr. King’s words, but of filling in much of the back story to the events leading up to his taking the podium."
—Kam Williams, Baltimore Afro-American

"Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington, that refrain has resonated across time and geography, continuing to inspire movements for freedom and equality and giving King’s speech memorable status. Younge, journalist and columnist for the Guardian and the Nation, considers King’s speech in the context of its significance in the U.S. and abroad. Exploring the factors that determine how speeches are remembered and whether they are remembered at all, Younge details the context of the August 1963 speech, in the tumultuous year that started with Alabama governor George Wallace declaring eternal segregation in the South and ended with President Kennedy’s assassination. He details the long, sleepless night of preparation, the dramatic moment when King turned over his prepared speech and delivered remarks from his heart, using the phrase many had advised against, warning that it was trite and overused. Despite its lukewarm reception at the time, the speech has gone on to resound throughout the world—in Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe—as an appeal for justice and equality 50 years after it was so famously uttered."
—Booklist

"Younge needs only a few words to get to the root of the matter, doing so with a gut punch as the topic requires... [he] offers an insightful and unvarnished interpretation of the speech [and its] aftermath."
—ForeWord Reviews

Praise for Stranger in a Strange Land: Encounters in the Disunited States:

“Abroad in America, Gary Younge is an acutely skeptical observer.”
—Jonathan Raban

“Gary Younge is an excellent journalist—a critical writer at a critical time.”
—Andrea Levy

“One of the tiny handful of contemporary journalists left who is consistently worth reading. A voice for our times.”
—Stuart Hall

Praise for No Place Like Home: A Black Briton’s Journey Through the American South:

“Younge’s book is a blend of travelogue, historical research, and social commentary leavened with the sharp eyes and tongue of an outsider examining the American racial milieu.”
—Booklist

Praise for Who Are We—and Should It Matter in the Twenty-First Century?:

“Penetrating and provocative.”
—Guardian

Resources

Television:
Aug 21, 2013: Democracy Now! 50 Years Later, the Untold History of the March on Washington & MLK’s Most Famous Speech (full hour)
Aug 22, 2013: GritTV: Gary Younge: Beyond A Dream

Radio Interviews:
Aug 5, 2013: Interview on KPFA's Africa Today ( begins at ~37 min)
Aug 6, 2013: Interview on KPFA's Morning Mix ( begins at ~25 min)