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Celebrate the New MLK Memorial by Reading His Key Documents

08/23/11

Celebrate the New MLK Memorial by Reading His Key Documents

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” Speech on the National Mall during the March on Washington. King is now commemorated with his own memorial there, joining those of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. Inspiration for the design, showing the image of King emerging from stone, came from a line in King’s speech: “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” The memorial will be dedicated this Sunday, on the forty-eighth anniversary of the speech. This week we are highlighting King’s most famous speeches. The document texts as well as our expert commentary will be freely available to members and nonmembers alike for the entire week.

Written in April 1963, King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail delivered an important statement on civil rights and civil disobedience against the background of that year’s racial crisis in Birmingham, Alabama—a critical turning point in the struggle for African American civil rights.

On August 28, 1963, nearly a quarter of a million people arrived in the District of Columbia for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Amid the day’s various events and speeches, King’s “I Have a Dream” stood out. The speech has come to epitomize the aspirations of the modern civil rights movement.

On April 4, 1967, King gave an address, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” from the pulpit of the Riverside Church in New York City. In it, he denounced the war for deepening the problems of African Americans and poor people.

In late March 1968, King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to lend his support to the city’s striking sanitation workers. On the evening of April 3, 1968, King delivered his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” at the Mason Temple (of the Church of God in Christ). The following day, King was felled by an assassin’s bullet, bringing an end to the career of the nation’s most prominent and respected civil rights leader.

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