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‘I Have A Dream’ first spoken in Detroit

Martin Luther King Jr. always knew there would be a better tomorrow. He said so in his words and deeds. Both were remembered last week with the dedication of the towering 30-foot statue of the civil rights leader in Washington.

King is revered for many things … his passion for justice, the fight to end bigotry and poverty, and his oratory prowess. He is perhaps best known for his “I Have A Dream” speech. But did you know he first spoke those words in Detroit more than two months before he said them in Washington in 1963?

The original speech he was to give in Washington was very different. According to a Google search, it seems King and his associates were so busy managing the logistics of the huge March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, that they didn’t even get to start working on the speech until the night before. Every stakeholder – civil rights groups, unions, academia, churches, and community organization – had ideas. A preliminary speech that tried to incorporate all those points of views was written and King took it to his bedroom to work on and pray over.

When King began to speak the next day the speech started out pretty much as written. Then gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, one of Dr. King’s favorite singers and closest supporters who had performed earlier in the day, called out, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin, tell ‘em about the dream.”  King left his prepared remarks and spoke from his heart … “I have a dream …”

Martin Luther King Jr. leads the March on Detroit in 1963 Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Those words were first heard at the Great March on Detroit earlier that summer. So it seems only fitting Detroit played a huge role in creating the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. The General Motors Foundation originally donated more than $10 million. At the dedication, which was chaired by the GM Foundation and Chevrolet, Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, pledged an additional $100,000 toward the $4 million still needed to complete the monument and ensure maintenance. “I am humbled,” the Free Press reported he said at dinner. “I am proud today of my company. I am proud today of my country.”

The MLK Memorial Foundation has raised $116 million of the $120 million needed to complete the memorial and support programs. Gifts large and small are welcome to complete this dream. Individual donations can be made online.

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