On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Fifty years to the day after that key moment in U.S. history, President Barack Obama and others stood in the same spot to honor the speech and its enduring message.
Obama told a crowd of thousands, “We rightly and best remember Dr. King's soaring oratory that day, how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions.”
The president also said, “What King was describing has been the dream of every American.”
Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were among the other speakers at the event. Obama was the last person to speak. At 3 p.m., bells rang out to mark the moment King ended his speech 50 years ago.
A Long Road to Equality
King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That event is now remembered as one of the most important symbols of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It was held to protest racial discrimination and to demand civil rights laws in Congress.
“The march 50 years ago inspired so many young people to continue participating in the civil rights movement,” John Lewis, U.S. Representative from Georgia, told TFK in a phone interview. Lewis is the only person to speak at both the 1963 march and the 50th anniversary event. “Young people didn’t like what they’d seen in the South … but they were engaging in non-violent protests.”
In the early 1960s, segregation, or the separation of people by race, was accepted in many parts of the U.S., particularly the South. Black people and white people could not attend the same schools, sit next to each other on buses, or even use the same water fountains. Businesses often refused to hire people based solely on the color of their skin.
Those laws no longer exist and much progress has been made. Barack Obama, the first African-American U.S. president, was elected twice.
“America changed for you and for me,” Obama said during his speech. “And the entire world drew strength from that example.” But the president added that there is still work to be done to ensure full equality for all Americans.
“The promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together,” he said. “America, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there.”
The Memories Live On
The media marked the anniversary with special coverage. TIME put together a project called “One Dream,” in which 17 people who attended the 1963 march discussed their memories of the event. View a video from the project embedded below, or click here for more information.
TIME also had several important people explain what the "I Have a Dream" speech means to them. Click here to view a slideshow of some of their answers.
CNN created a documentary called We Were There: The March on Washington – An Oral History. Premiering on August 23, it featured Lewis and many other people who participated in the historic demonstration.
“This march is an example of what any one person, any group can do,” CNN anchor Don Lemon, who hosted the documentary, told TFK. “It is an example of what America is about, and how social change, political change, changes in our laws can be brought about.”
TEACHERS: Click here to view a TFK Mini Lesson and free printables to teach the anniversary.
Look for special coverage of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in your first issue of TFK!