Behind the dream – Martin Luther King Jr’s improvisation

You may not know, but the prepared text for the world-famous and spirit-moving Martin Luther King Jr. speech, ‘I have a Dream’ did not include a section beginning with the iconic phrase.

Historians note that something remarkable occurred around the seventh paragraph. They indicate the decision by King transformed the speech from a good one to a legendary one.

The Night Before

In his book, “Behind the Dream,” Clarence B. Jones, King’s speechwriter, let the world see what really happened. On Tuesday, August 27th, 1963, the night before King was set to take to the podium at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., there was a meeting of the minds at the Willard Hotel.

Each person in the room had an investment in the speech as they shared their voices with King and Jones. Hours went by as the speech was prepared, revised, finished, and revised again. The speech was printed and given to the press the next morning ahead of the speech.

The March on Washington

If you watch the iconic video of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering the speech, you’ll notice he is looking down at his notes frequently throughout the first half of the speech. He was reading the text nearly verbatim at first. But, a moment of pause around the seventh paragraph of the speech allowed the space for an extraordinary moment that would shape history forever.

During that moment of pause, Mahalia Jackson, a gospel singer and friend of King’s shouted out ‘tell them about the dream!’ From that moment. King could be seen pushing aside the prepared speech and allowing his heart to lead the way. From that point, Martin Luther King Jr. improvised the rest of the speech including the legendary ‘I have a dream’ passage.

And history…was made.

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