Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated 50 years ago on this date, April 4, 1968, gave a truly revolutionary speech, known as “I Have a Dream.” Around the country today, his death is being commemorated. The A.C.T. to End Racism rally was held today on the National Mall in Washington, while marchers gathering at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial for a silent walk to a prayer service on the National Mall.
King gathered more than 250,000 civil rights supporters during the march for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963, when he gave his timeless speech.
King held many speeches during his leadership of the civil rights movement, but the one during this march was especially profound because he touched the hearts of everyone. The main subject of the speech, considered by some the greatest call to end racism in America, was the rights of black Americans. King was discussing the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed a million slaves in 1863.
However, he pointed that even a hundred years since then, a black person still wasn’t free. As King finished the speech, he departed from his prepared text and started explaining his dream, encouraged by Mahalia Jackson’s cry: “Tell them about that dream, Martin.”
King described his ideas of freedom and equal rights to everyone around the world. He said he dreamed of a time when black people would live freely.
Among the most quoted lines of the speech, he also described a personal example of his life. He said that one day in the future, he wanted his children to live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the qualities of their character. “I have a dream today” were the words that King highlighted at the end of the sentence.
His memorial was established in 2011 and was based on a line from King’s speech: “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” A 30-foot-high relief named the “Stone of Hope” stands between two other pieces of granite symbolizing his “Mountain of Despair.”
President Kennedy watched the event on television and said he was impressed by King’s words. The revolutionary march and speech pressured Kennedy’s administration to work to improve the civil rights in Congress, and Kennedy considered King’s speech one of the elements which contributed to the liberal civil rights coalition he was planning to form.
King was assassinated when he stepped outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, and leaned over the balcony. He was shot and killed, and a petty thief named James Earl Ray was arrested. Ray pleaded guilty to the assassination in 1969 — though he later recanted his plea — and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He died in prison in 1998 after serving 29 years of his sentence.
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At 6:01 p.m. local time a historic church bell near the motel balcony was expected to toll 39 times. King was 39 when he died.