Reflects on Martin Luther King’s famous speech, made 50 years ago on 28 August, 1963.
by James Lamont
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To reflect on Martin Luther King’s famous speech, made 50 years ago on 28 August, 1963.
Preparation and materials
- Download a video of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream . . . ’ speech (check copyright) and have the means to watch it during the assembly.
- The past few hundred years have been marked by ethnic and racial conflict, as the Holocaust, the Rwanda genocide and the ongoing war in Syria demonstrate. There have also been individuals who have stood above the hatred and violence, however, and called for peace and cooperation. One of the most famous fighters for peace was Dr Martin Luther King.
- On 28 August 1963, two to three hundred thousand Americans converged on Washington DC. This was the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’. The organizers had many aims, but what unified the march was a call for greater freedoms for African-Americans. The date chosen for the march fell on the one-hundredth anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the United States of America. Racial inequality was still rampant, however, and African-Americans were treated as second-class citizens in many states.
- President Kennedy was attempting to pass the Civil Rights Act at the time, which would provide greater freedoms for African-Americans. While many marched as a show of support for the President, others marched to criticize the Act for not going far enough.
- Dr King was tasked with giving the final speech and he captured both the anger and the optimism of the march. ‘America has given the Negro people a bad cheque’, he said, referring to the centuries of slavery and racial injustice, but ‘we’ve come to cash this cheque’ by marching together. The civil rights leaders had come together to the nation’s capital to demand a fair deal for all.
Yet it is the ‘I have a dream . . .’ segment of his speech that has passed into history. Dr King called not for acts of revenge against oppressors but understanding and cooperation. The most famous line of the speech – ‘I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!’ – carries a promise of peace, reconciliation and an end to racial conflict.
Time for reflection
Watch the video of the speech.
It takes real courage to stand up to oppression. Yet it is even more extraordinary to be willing to move on, reconcile and, together, march towards justice. Dr King’s speech still stands as the benchmark for justice and equality between human beings.
What will we do today, to help that dream come true?
‘You shall go out with joy’ (Hymns Old and New (Kevin Mayhew), 853, 2008 edition)
Play the speech as students leave the room.