Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I Have a Dream” Speech

(1963)

Context

Gathering in the nation's capital to petition Congress is a time-honored tradition of American political movements. In 1894 Jacob Coxey led an army of unemployed workers to Washington, demanding that the government create more jobs. Thirty thousand World War I veterans seeking early bonuses for their military service camped outside Washington for forty days in 1932, until routed by army troops. In 1941 A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, threatened to lead one hundred thousand African Americans down Pennsylvania Avenue, forcing President Franklin D. Roosevelt to act against racial discrimination in defense industries.

As civil rights protests gained momentum in the early 1960s, Randolph revived the idea of a march on Washington. Because he was concerned primarily about African American poverty and unemployment, Randolph proposed a two-day demonstration for jobs to be held in October 1963. He maintained that a massive assembly...

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Martin Luther King, Jr. (Library of Congress)

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