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This posting was updated on 28 August 2023. First posted on 13 August 2013

Sixty years ago, at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King changed America.

'The original March on Washington took place on 28 August 1963, a hundred years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which proclaimed the freedom of enslaved people in southern states. It was the biggest demonstration that Washington had ever seen.'

Martin Luther King Jr waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on 28 August 1963.

Martin Luther King Jr waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on 28 August 1963.

Photo: AFP/Getty Images/Via The Guardian

‘One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free … Now the time has come for this nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.’- John F. Kennedy

March on Washington: the day MLK – and Dylan and Baez – made hope and history rhyme

On 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King made his 'I Have a Dream' speech at the culmination of the March on Washington, giving the civil rights movement an unstoppable momentum. Here, a group of social activists, politicians, film-makers, artists, sports personalities, writers, Nobel Prize laureate, actors, President, the common good activists and bridge-builders recall that epoch-defining day.

An engraving at the Lincoln Memorial marks the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. made his 1963 'I Have a Dream' speech. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Martin Luther King: Harry Belafonte remembers 'I Have a Dream' 

Harry Belafonte, the singer, actor and social activist recalls an epoch-defining day 

“The atmosphere that day in Washington was a mixture of hope and excitement. I think that everyone who attended the march felt empowered. There was a tremendous sense that we were pursuing a cause that was honourable, but, equally, that what we wanted was achievable. We were there as Americans and all of America was represented that day. It felt like we were witnessing a new moment, a renaissance of hope and activism. It was truly inspiring…The spirit that Dr King called forth was a profoundly American spirit, as was his struggle. What made me feel so good about that struggle was that it was ordinary people who were becoming empowered through his words, to realise their own possibilities…One of my abiding memories of the day was something I will probably never experience again: such a tide of people leaving with such a sense of satisfaction and hope…But there is also a new passion for struggle on the horizon. People have once again had enough…I can feel it in the air when I speak at colleges all over America, which I am being asked to do now more than ever. Young people are hungry for change. They carry an optimism and a great sense of hope but it has not yet been articulated. But, it will be because it must be. That, too, is Dr King's legacy. He made history, but history also made him.”

Martin Luther King: Paul Krugman remembers 'I Have a Dream'

Nobel Prize laureate, Professor and Colmnist, Paul Krugman: “How Fares the Dream?”

“I have a dream,” declared Martin Luther King, in a speech that has lost none of its power to inspire. And some of that dream has come true. When King spoke in the summer of 1963, America was a nation that denied basic rights to millions of its citizens, simply because their skin was the wrong color. Today racism is no longer embedded in law. And while it has by no means been banished from the hearts of men, its grip is far weaker than once it was. To say the obvious: to look at a photo of President Obama with his cabinet is to see a degree of racial openness — and openness to women, too — that would have seemed almost inconceivable in 1963. When we observe Martin Luther King’s Birthday, we have something very real to celebrate: the civil rights movement was one of America’s finest hours, and it made us a nation truer to its own ideals.” 

‘I Have a Dream’: Yearning for Dr. King’s Interconnected World

Martin Luther King: Steve McQueen remembers 'I Have a Dream'

Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'it's a flame that still burns'

Film-maker and artist Steve McQueen on finding inspiration in the courage of Martin Luther King

“The fact that I have the opportunity to make work as an artist and ask questions is because of the civil rights movement, which has influenced so many people and societies. Not just black people, but human rights as a whole. I don't know many things that have had that profound an effect on society. The courage of Martin Luther King goes without saying, and every time I think of his last speech where he says, "I've seen the promised land; I may not get there with you", it always gives me goose pimples. Such courage is a huge inspiration. Recently I was fortunate enough to be invited to the National Association of Black Journalists to talk about my new film, 12 Years a Slave. The mood I encountered was one where people were re-evalutating their position within the context of society – how far people have come, and how far they have to go. The conference took place half an hour from where Trayvon Martin was killed. The "I Have a Dream" speech is so powerful because we all have that dream that people will not be judged by the colour of their skin, their gender or their sexual orientation. It's a flame that still burns 50 years later. It's something that is the truth, and we all cling on to the truth. It's the only thing we've got.”

Martin Luther King: Maya Moore remembers 'I Have a Dream'

Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'it captures humanity'

Basketball star Maya Moore on the debt she owes to Martin Luther King, and the importance of standing up for freedom and opportunity

“Whenever I think about where our country has come from and, more specifically, African-Americans, I can't help but think about Martin Luther King. I have freedom today because of men like him. That speech is one that captures humanity, no matter where you're from, no matter what you look like. One of my favourite lines talks about being judged by the content of your character and not by the colour of your skin, and I think that pretty much sums up what we need to strive for as a people and as a country, and throughout the world: making character the highest call, not outward appearance. No matter how old you are, you can't hear it enough; it's always going to be a great reminder to society. As an African-American woman, there's no way I would have been a professional in sport if it wasn't for people standing up for freedom and opportunities. [The way in which] minorities in general are viewed has changed. Being alive while the United States has its first African-American president, and to see him being looked at as a person and as a man, as opposed to a colour, is definitely a highlight for my generation and I think there will be many more to come.”

‘I have a Dream’, 57 Years On and Why We Must Carry on Imagining the Dream

Martin Luther King: Cory Booker remembers 'I Have a Dream'

Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'you got to stand up'

The mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker, on his generation's responsibility to build on Martin Luther King's legacy

“I am part of a generation that stands on the shoulders of giants. We were born after the civil rights movement and it is our responsibility to build on that legacy. Liberty and justice won't be achieved for all Americans until people stand up and work for it. Growing up, my parents' message was simple: "You've got to stand up, people stood for you. You got to stand up. Don't let me ever hear you complain about what is, I want to see you working for what can be. We cannot yield in the face of opposition or outrageous circumstances and we can't conform with a country that is serving the dreams and aspirations of some and marginalising far too many. Fifty years after the March on Washington, it is just as important to take action, rather than criticise from the sidelines. In order to ensure quality public education, good health and abundant opportunities for all American children, regardless of circumstance, we must stand up and take action.”

Martin Luther King: Van Jones remembers 'I Have a Dream'

Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'it had a big impact on me'

The civil rights activist and former adviser to the Obama administration Van Jones on the new challenges facing African-Americans and the resurgence of the racist right

“I was born in the rural south in 1968 and I grew up in the shadow of various assassinations, most especially the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King. In the black churches, up until a decade or so ago, it was not uncommon to see pictures of these men, these three martyrs, in the foyer of the church. It had a big impact on me. As somebody who was born the year Dr King died, I grew up thinking that I had some special responsibility to continue his struggle. I went to law school and became a civil rights attorney and I've spent most of my adult life sticking up for the people whom Dr King was most concerned with at the end of his life, namely the urban poor… If Dr King were able to assess the situation 50 years on from his speech in Washington, he'd have to be overjoyed, from a 1963 standpoint, by the tremendous progress that's been made: the election of a black president, the rise of African-Americans in entertainment and business and the success of those parts of the black middle class that have been able to negotiate the transition. But he would have been dismayed and alarmed by both the collapse of the black working class and the rise of a kind of anti-black contempt in US politics.”

Martin Luther King: Ava DuVernay  remembers 'I Have a Dream'

Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'he was an extraordinary man'

Film-maker Ava DuVernay on looking beyond the monuments and parades to see the real Martin Luther King

DuVernay was the first African-American woman to be awarded the directing prize at the Sundance film festival, for Middle of Nowhere. She is currently shooting Selma, a film about Martin Luther King. I'm a part of a generation of African-Americans that does not have the raw memory of Jim Crow. Our knowledge is learned and studied. While deeply felt, it is different than the first-hand, personal experiences of our elders. Still, the lessons and legacy of the movement are ones that I hold dear. Dr King was a man. We often think of him as larger than life, but he was a man. An extraordinary man, leading an epic American movement. A man who was called upon to marshal opposing perspectives into clear strategy, to guide tactics for multiple large-scale public demonstrations, to inspire and motivate through his oratory and to be a good father, husband, son and friend. When I think of him, I try to look beyond the monuments and parades to see one man who worked hard to offer something valuable to this world – and succeeded. I think as a society we'd be wise to look more closely at the lessons of history and of heroes such as Dr King.”

Martin Luther King: Attica Locke  remembers 'I Have a Dream'

Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'it gives me chills every time'

Novelist Attica Locke on the vandalising of the Lincoln Memorial and the impact King has had upon her and the American people

“Dr King's life is of a greater significance than just the speech, though. The older I get, the more deeply I respect and appreciate his commitment to non-violence. I really believe it is the only sustaining principle of life. I've come to love him deeply from a place that is beyond the simplicity of civil rights history and that deeply informs my life. It's a reach for something higher. All of us can be prone to both physical and verbal violence. Even the violence of hatred. When I think of people who make me sick – the Dick Cheneys of the world – I try to remember him. Violence is soulless and empty and the only way we're going to survive is through non-violence.”

Martin Luther King: Nikkolas Smith remembers 'I Have a Dream'

Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'he got people to envision the future'

Digital artist Nikkolas Smith on how the Trayvon Martin killing inspired his image of Martin Luther King in a hoodie

“My mother made sure that I knew all about Martin Luther King from a young age. I grew up in a white neighbourhood in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, where I was the only black kid in the class at school. My mom would tell me: "All these things that you can do now, that I couldn't do when I was your age, are because of Dr King. You couldn't have gone to this school you're going to now if it wasn't for him." She was constantly encouraging me to continue the dream and make it better – so when things happen in America such as the murder of Trayvon Martin, it just snaps you back to the 60s and you're like: "This shouldn't still be happening." Soon after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, I decided to create an art piece that depicts a beloved iconic figure in a hoodie – a look that some view as "suspicious". Dr King seemed the perfect choice. The piece, April 4th 1968, speaks directly to King's ideals of not judging anyone by their outward appearance. I wanted to craft an image that would cause people to step back from their preconceived biases. Trayvon could one day have been the next Martin Luther King Jr, if only he'd been afforded the basic human right to life. Race relations have definitely improved in America in my lifetime, but there are still problems, especially in the south. The way you are brought up is a big factor – it's hard to change from generation to generation. The prejudices are going to go away eventually, but it takes time. People forget, it's only a few decades since black people were legally allowed to marry white people throughout the US. Dr King was able to get people to envision the future. That's why his "I Have a Dream" speech was so powerful. In the 60s, people didn't take the time to envision their children – black, white, Asian, Latino – holding hands and living together without being judged. Dr King took people along with him in his dream and that was huge for us as a country.”

Martin Luther King: Tarell Alvin remembers 'I Have a Dream'

Martin Luther King's speech: 'It's tied to the American dream'

The playwright Tarell Alvin on how the speech influenced him, growing up in Miami, and the consequences of the killing of Trayvon Martin

“I went to a school called Martin Luther King Elementary, which is located on Martin Luther King Boulevard, in Miami, Florida. The influence of Dr King trickled down into our lives in myriad ways. I was pushed towards the ideologies that he and others sought to make real, but there were others alongside me, in my family even, who were not feeling the reach of that dream. You could tell they felt left out and growing up in inner-city Miami, as I did, you couldn't turn a blind eye to it. The King dream is tied directly to the American dream. Its ideal is equal protection under the law for all to excel in liberty, to be individuals but to be able to rise as a group. We have seen the flaws in the American dream. The idea that a whole group of people can excel is becoming less and less plausible, especially today, with the middle classes becoming stripped and divided and many being forced back into poverty. This does break down along racial lines and that's terrifying to me. I've never experienced the sort of things my grandparents or even my parents did, the racial disparity that they experienced in a very direct way. The first time I was called a derogatory name by a white person was when I was in Stratford-upon-Avon, in residence at the RSC. That never happened to me in the US. However, there is a more oblique sort of racial and class oppression going on here. For example, we've got people saying to us: "You must behave in this way to become part of this class structure – you must dress in a certain way, you must speak in a certain way …" That kind of discrimination is much more subtle and harder to fight. In the Trayvon Martin case, we saw something happen that we haven't seen in a long time: the equal protection that we are supposed to have under law was stripped away. A young man was shot down because he was "in the wrong place at the wrong time". My grandfather grew up in Alabama and the stories he passed down to me, of men punching you in the face because you were on the sidewalk at the same time as them, are so horrifying you can hardly believe them – until you hear about a young man being shot in a residential neighbourhood and then everybody thinking it was his fault. Or until you are faced with the wildfire slurs that Trayvon's friend Rachel Jeantel had to endure during the trial and the diminishing of her loss in front of the nation. When you're faced with things like that, you think: "Wow, we somehow escaped the devil we knew for the devil we don't – the devil who's hiding, who's hard to see, who has to be sought out." To me, that's frightening.”

Martin Luther King: Gary Younge remembers 'I Have a Dream'

Martin Luther King: the story behind his 'I have a dream' speech

Feature writer and columnist for the Guardian based in the US, Gary Younge finds out how the speech made history

“Fifty years on, it is clear that in eliminating legal segregation – not racism, but formal, codified discrimination – the civil rights movement delivered the last moral victory in America for which there is still a consensus. While the struggle to defeat it was bitter and divisive, nobody today is seriously campaigning for the return of segregation or openly mourning its demise. The speech's appeal lies in the fact that, whatever the interpretation, it remains the most eloquent, poetic, unapologetic and public articulation of that victory.”

Martin Luther King: Barack Obama remembers 'I Have a Dream'

Barack Obama to mark 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech*

US President Barack Obama will mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech by speaking from the same steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington

“The event, to be held on August 28 in the US capital, will take place on the exact spot where King delivered his famous address on the same day in 1963. Mr Obama, the first black US president, will speak about the half century that has passed since the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," which culminated with remarks by the Atlanta pastor and civil rights icon. In 1963 King spoke in front of 250,000 people, explaining his wish for better relations between black and white Americans. His words were engraved on the steps of the monument where he spoke.”

*A note from Kamran Mofid: I do hope, pray and dream that on that day, President Obama will also strongly condemn the recent decision of the US Supreme Court’s ruling to gut the Voting Rights Act by removing one of its key enforcement mechanisms. The Court’s decision according to many observers erased fundamental protections against racial discrimination in voting in the US.  Moreover, I do hope that the President will also address the Trayvon Martin’s case, which has raised questions about the equal protection that all citizens are supposed to have under the law. Equally I do hope the President will reflect and say how the US can move forward by truly embrasing values so dear to Dr. King: Freedom, peace,  justice, equality, jobs and dignity for all.

Living the Dream: "So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream."…

Martin Luther King: GCGI remembers 'I Have a Dream' speech

Remembering and Reimagining August 28, 1963 (Washington DC) on August 28, 2013 (Paris)

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

Fifty years ago on 28 August 1963 the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King delivered his magnificent 'I have a dream' speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.  It was an event that not only changed the United States of America, but that also had a profound impact on the rest of the world. On that historical day in August 1963, in what was to that point the largest public protest in the history of the US, more than 200,000 Americans joined a march on Washington DC demanding equal justice for all citizens under the law. On that day, the interracial crowd heard Martin Luther King deliver his famous speech, predicting a time when freedom and equality for all would become a reality in the US. The very next year in 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act outlawing all forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and outlawing discrimination against women in the US.

Exactly, fifty years later, on 28 August 2013 in Paris we will be concluding our 11th GCGI International Annual Conference. The main Conference’s theme is “Imagine the Common Good: An Intergenerational Dialogue to Inspire a Creative Leadership”. The profound positive impact of Dr. King on successive generations of young people across the globe cannot be over emphasised. From over 20 countries, representing many different cultures, civilisations, faiths and communities, from the very young to senior citizens, we will come together in Paris to share our hopes and dreams for a better world and to urge more effective and informed action to make the dream a reality.

Dr. King’s dream is also our dream: justice, peace, meaningful jobs with dignity, and freedom for all citizens under the law. Thus, with hope for a better future and joining with the spirit of Dr. King and all who have struggled across the generations for justice, we will on August 28, 2013, during the concluding session to our GCGI 11th International Annual Conference, remember the “I have a dream” speech.  There is no better or fitting way to celebrate and salute the life and work of Martin Luther King than to embrace the dream of greater and ever evolving justice for all and to join the struggle to make that better world a reality.

Prof. Kamran Mofid, Founder, Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI)

Read more:

Martin Luther King: Harry Belafonte remembers 'I Have a Dream'


How Fares the Dream?- Paul Krugman


Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'it's a flame that still burns'- Steve McQueen


Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'it captures humanity'- Maya Moore


Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'you got to stand up'- Cory Booker


Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'it had a big impact on me'- Van Jones


Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'he was an extraordinary man'- Ava DuVernay


Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'it gives me chills every time'- Attica Locke


Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: 'he got people to envision the future'- Nikkolas Smith


Martin Luther King's speech: 'It's tied to the American dream'- Tarell Alvin


Martin Luther King: the story behind his 'I have a dream' speech- Gary Younge


Barack Obama to mark 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech