On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, the African-American civil rights movement reached its peak when Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed an estimated 250,000 people participating in the March on Washington for Jobs and freedom. Protesters – black and white, poor and rich – gathered in the nation’s capital to demand the right to vote and equal opportunities for African Americans and to call for an end to racial segregation and discrimination.
The Peaceful Rally was the largest grievance-redressing assembly the capital has ever seen, and King was the last speaker. With the statue of Abraham Lincoln – the great emancipator – towering behind him, King used the rhetorical skills he had developed as a Baptist preacher to show how, as he put it, the “Negro is still not free. “. He spoke of the struggle ahead, stressing the importance of continued action and non-violent protest. Coming to the end of his prepared text (which, like other speakers that day, he had limited to seven minutes), he was overwhelmed by the moment and launched into an impromptu sermon.
He told the silent crowd, “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 towns, knowing that in a way. or another this situation can and will be changed. Let’s not wallow in the valley of despair. Continuing, he began the chorus that made the speech one of the best known in American history, right after Lincoln’s “Gettysburg speech” in 1863:
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“I have a dream,” he explained above the crowd stretching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, “that one day this nation will rise up and live the true meaning of its credo:“ We let us take these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. I dream that one day, on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood. I dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state suffocating in the heat of injustice, suffocating in the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Today I have a dream.”
King had used the theme “I have a dream” before in a handful of blunt speeches, but never with the force and effectiveness of that hot August day in Washington. He equated the civil rights movement with the highest and noblest ideals in American tradition, allowing many to see for the first time the importance and urgency of racial equality. He ended his moving 16-minute speech with his vision of the fruit of racial harmony:
“When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every town, we can hasten that day when all of God’s children, black and white men, Jews and pagans, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old spiritual negro: “Free at last! Finally free! Thank goodness we are finally free! “
In the year since the March on Washington, the civil rights movement achieved two of its greatest successes: the ratification of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished the election tax and thus a barrier to poor Afro-voters. South Americans; and the passage of the Civil Rights Act 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination in employment and education and prohibits racial segregation in public establishments. In October 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr., received the Nobel Peace Prize. On April 4, 1968, he was shot while standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee – he was 39 years old. The shooter escaped convict James Earl Ray.
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