August 28, 1963. A quarter million Americans—black and white, young and old—descend on the nation's Capitol in a show of solidarity. [Background noise] It was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but it will be remembered as a turning point in the fight for civil rights. Among the speakers, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who electrified the crowd with his stirring "I Have a Dream" speech.
King: For even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.
A few months earlier, racial tensions in the Deep South had erupted. News reports carried brutal images of fire hoses blasting at the backs of school children. President Kennedy had finally seen enough. In June of 1963, he presented sweeping civil rights legislation to Congress. Dr. King and others hoped a massive, yet peaceful, demonstration in Washington would spur passage of the bill. The city braced for violence, but their fears proved unfounded. The day of the march, more than two hundred thousand people gathered for a rally at the Washington Monument. It was the largest demonstration in the country's history. Arm in arm, they walked from the Washington Monument to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There, performers as diverse as Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Mahalia Jackson lent their voices to the cause. Martin Luther King Jr. was the last to take the stage. He began with a reference to Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves a century earlier.
King: But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.
Partway through, King put aside his prepared text and shared with the protestors his dream of equal rights for all.
King: [Applause] Let freedom ring, and when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we're free at last." [Applause]
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