Fifty years ago this week, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was the key moment of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, held on August 28, 1963. Click here to listen to King’s 16-minute speech.
On Saturday, civil rights leaders—including King’s son, Martin Luther King III— organized a 50th anniversary march, called the Realize the Dream Rally. People from all over the country took part, marching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
A Long Road to Equality
The original 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 major 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. An African-American man has been elected President twice. But there is still work to be done.
“[Today] it’s seen as un-American to be discriminatory or racist,” says law professor Sheryll Cashin. “That’s a major achievement, despite the fact that we still have inequality.”
Young People United
The original March on Washington was unique because young people—including John Lewis, then 23 years old—played a large part in organizing it.
Lewis told TFK, “It is important for kids and young people to remember the message of the March on Washington was to change America and to lay down the burden of race, to create one America, one people, one house, one family.”
During his speech on Saturday, Lewis recalled the struggles of 50 years ago and his efforts to bring America’s youth together for a common cause. “I said to all of the young people, ‘You must get out there and push and pull and make America what America should be for all of us.’”
The anniversary will conclude on Wednesday with a ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial that will include speeches by President Barack Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. The president and other leaders said they hope that young people today will be inspired by what the older generation did for them 50 years ago.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary, TIME Magazine asked several important people what the "I Have a Dream" speech means to them. Click here to view a slideshow of some of their answers.
TEACHERS: Click here to view a TFK Mini Lesson and free printables to use with this story.
Look for special coverage of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in your first issue of TFK!