On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He looked out at a crowd of more than 200,000 people. Millions more were watching on TV. King was about to deliver what would become one of the most famous speeches of all time.
MARCHING FOR FREEDOM
The crowd had gathered for the March on Washington. It was the biggest protest of the civil rights movement, the long struggle to gain equal rights for African-Americans and others.
The United States was a very different place in 1963 than it is today. In many areas of the South, black people were segregated, or separated, from white people. African-Americans couldn’t attend certain schools or eat in certain restaurants. Laws in some states kept many black people from voting. A lot of businesses refused to hire black workers.
People had come from across the country to attend the march. Robert Avery, who was 15 at the time, had traveled nearly 700 miles from Gadsden, Alabama.
“To see all of the people who were there—both black and white, young and old—coming together for a common cause, it made you feel really good,” he says.
King was a leading voice of the civil rights movement. He organized peaceful protests against unjust laws. He had been arrested, jailed, and even attacked for standing up for his beliefs.
King was also known for his inspiring speeches. On that hot afternoon, he stood before the sea of people and began his “I Have a Dream” speech. King said that even though slavery was abolished nearly 100 years earlier, African-Americans still weren’t truly free. His voice grew more powerful as he said he dreamed of a day when people wouldn’t be judged by their skin color. The crowd cheered, and many people were moved to tears.
“Even though he was talking to a crowd,” Avery says, “he made it sound like he was talking to you.”
King’s speech didn’t just affect people in the crowd. It also drew the nation’s attention to the discrimination that still existed in the United States. And it inspired new supporters to join the cause.
“I Have a Dream” was one of the milestones of the civil rights movement. Less than a year after King’s speech, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It outlawed discrimination based on race in schools, offices, and public places. The law also banned unfair rules that prevented people from voting.
Today, a memorial dedicated to King stands near the spot where he delivered his historic speech 50 years ago. It is a powerful reminder of the lasting impact of his leadership.