I heard a nice tribute to Martin Luther King Junior and his speech at the March on Washington on the radio this morning. Another version of this showed up in my RSS feed thanks to the fantastic “Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet” on Feministing.
Apparently, the essential chorus of “I have a dream” was a semi-improvisation for King. It was a response to Mahalia Jackson.
As King neared the end, he came to a sentence that wasn’t quite right. He had planned to introduce his conclusion with a call to “go back to our communities as members of the international association for the advancement of creative dissatisfaction.” He skipped that, read a few more lines, and then improvised: “Go back to Mississippi; go back to Alabama; go back to South Carolina; go back to Georgia; go back to Louisiana; go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.”
Nearby, off to one side, Mahalia Jackson shouted: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” King looked out over the crowd. As he later explained in an interview, “all of a sudden this thing came to me that I have used — I’d used many times before, that thing about ‘I have a dream’ — and I just felt that I wanted to use it here.” He said, “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” And he was off, delivering some of the most beloved lines in American history, a speech that he never intended to give and that some of the other civil rights leaders believed no one but the marchers would ever remember.
Don’t sleep on the impact of the solid gospel choices of Mahalia Jackson in motivating a political crowd. Remember that music is key for every liberation movement I can think of.
She sang two spirituals, “I Been ’Buked and I Been Scorned” and “How I Got Over.” King was seated nearby, clapping his hands on his knees and calling out to her as she sang. Roger Mudd, covering the event for CBS News, said after the first song: “Mahalia Jackson. And all the speeches in the world couldn’t have brought the response that just came from the hymns she sang. Miss Mahalia Jackson.”
I hope you have some remaining monthly New York Times tokens! Or else you won’t be able to follow the link I’ve recommended to read the whole article. Pretty short-sighted New York Times. #newyorktimeshatesfreeinformation