The speech has become legend.
The facts, too often, are lost.
Although the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech 50 years ago ended with an inspirational dream that someday freedom will ring across the land, he began boldly with the stark realities of racial injustice in America.
One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, he said, “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity… we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”
And, he warned, “Those who believe the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.”
It was a very different time.
Two months earlier, Gov. George Wallace blocked two black students from entering the doors of the University of Alabama. Classified newspaper advertisements in the North differentiated between homes for whites and homes for blacks.
In the midst of this racial segregation, 200,000 people converged for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. News reports showed the masses disembarking from trains and buses, and the crowd flowing to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at noon.
The New York Times captured King’s appearance this way: “As he arose, a great roar welled up from the crowd. When he started to speak, a hush fell.”
Today, the Beacon Journal begins its local reflection on the anniversary with eight people from the community discussing
their personal thoughts about
King’s speech. (See below and on
Page A8. )