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47 Years Ago in Detroit: Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Delivers First "I Have a Dream" Speech

June 23, 2010


Martin Luther King

speaking in Detroit on June 23rd, 1963.

Grace Lee Boggs

legendary Detroit activist and philosopher. She helped organize King’s 1963 march in Detroit.

We turn now to another historic march down Woodward Avenue in Detroit. It was June 23rd, 1963, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a civil rights march of thousands and delivered a speech with what would become his most famous words: "I have a dream." The speech came two months before the historic March on Washington. We play an excerpt of the speech and talk to Grace Lee Boggs, who helped organize the march. [includes rush transcript]


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting on the road here in Detroit, as we turn now to another historic march down Woodward Avenue in Detroit. It was June 23rd, 1963, forty-seven years ago today, when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a civil rights march of thousands and delivered a speech with what would become his most famous words: "I have a dream."

    REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: So I go back to the South not in despair. I go back to the South not with a feeling that we are caught in a dark dungeon that will never lead to a way out. I go back believing that the new day is coming. And so, this afternoon I have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day, right down in Georgia and Mississippi and Alabama, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to live together as brothers. I have a dream this afternoon, that one day — one day little white children and little Negro children will be able to join hands as brothers and sisters. I have a dream this afternoon that one day — one day men will no longer burn down houses and the Church of God simply because people want to be free. I have a dream this afternoon that there will be a day that we will no longer face the atrocities that Emmett Till had to face or Medgar Evers had to face, that all men can live with dignity. I have a dream this afternoon that my four little children — that my four little children will not come up in the same young days that I came up within, but they will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I have a dream this afternoon that one day, right here in Detroit, Negroes will be able to buy a house or rent a house anywhere that their money will carry them, and they will be able to get a job.

AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking June 23rd, 1963, forty-seven years ago today. That’s right, you heard him correctly. He was not speaking at the March on Washington; it was here in the Motor City where he first proclaimed those words, "I have a dream."

Legendary Detroit organizer, philosopher Grace Lee Boggs helped organize Dr. King’s 1963 march, called the Grand March, down Detroit’s Woodward Avenue. We visited Grace Lee Boggs at her home, where she’s lived for more than half-a-century, and I asked her about when King came to Detroit.

    AMY GOODMAN: Were you here in 1963 when Martin Luther King came?

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: Yes, I was in the Freedom March. I remember it was very interesting. He came — as a matter of fact, I helped organize the Freedom March down Woodward Avenue. It was on Saturday, June 23rd. And then we had Walter Reuther, Martin Luther King. They were all —-

    AMY GOODMAN: Walter Reuther, head of UAW.

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: Yeah, the UAW. They were all on the front line of the march. I didn’t have much use for Martin Luther King at that time, because I was really much more enamored of Malcolm. And it’s only, I think, after King went to Chicago and got some sense of what happened, what was happening, with young people in the Northern ghettos that he began to change, and I became very fond of him. I mean, learned so much from him.

    AMY GOODMAN: So he gave his first "I Have a Dream" speech here.

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: He gave his first -—

    AMY GOODMAN: Two months before going to Washington.

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: Yeah, but he also, in 1954, gave a speech at the Second Baptist Church downtown, where he said many of the things about transformational values that he said later on in 1967 in his anti-Vietnam War speech. It’s very interesting to watch his development.

AMY GOODMAN: Legendary Detroit organizer, philosopher, Grace Lee Boggs. We spoke with her at her home on Monday night here in Detroit. Grace turns ninety-five years old this week. Her birthday will be celebrated here at the US Social Forum. Vince Harding will be there. Danny Glover will be there. She’s also being a part of a number of the sessions here, where more than 10,000, 15,000 people have gathered to deal with war abroad and at home and to talk about alternatives.

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