Is Martin Luther King Jr.’s 'I Have a Dream' Speech The Greatest in History?

By | March 16, 2018

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his I Have a Dream speech to huge crowd gathered for the Mall in Washington DC during the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom. (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Co.)

On August 28, 1968, with four immortal words -- "I have a dream" -- American civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his hopes for a better future. His speech was eloquent and touching, as well as prophetic. And apart from its content and effects, it stands as one of the great feats of oratory of the 20th century.

Dr. Martin Luther King Had Hundreds Of Thousands Of Supporters

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MLK managed to gather more than 250,000 civil rights supporters during the “March for Jobs and Freedom,” in Washington, D.C. The March on Washington was, in part, intended to demonstrate mass support for the Civil Rights legislation proposed by President Kennedy in June. MLK and other participating leaders agreed to keep their speeches calm to avoid inciting the civil disobedience which had become the hallmark of the Civil Rights Movement. King originally designed his speech as a homage to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, timed to correspond with the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The "I Have a Dream" speech has been shown to have had several versions that were written at different times. It has no single version draft, but is a culmination of several drafts. It was originally called "Normalcy, Never Again," but very little of this draft and another "Normalcy Speech,"  wound up being included in the final draft. A draft of "Normalcy, Never Again" is housed in Morehouse College's Martin Luther King Jr. Collection of the Robert W. Woodruff Library and Atlanta University Center. The focus of "I have a dream" comes through the speech's delivery.  King departed from his prepared remarks and started improvisational "preaching,"  punctuating his points with "I have a dream."