King was the last person to speak on the March on Washington. All of the other speakers wanted to go first, figuring that the news team was going to leave during the evening. As he came to the podium as the final major speakers of that day, King captured the spirit of demonstration resistance that had motivated many thousands of his fellow Americans to take a public stand in favor of freedom. The speech was carefully woven together to appeal to classical American values of liberty and equality under the law that white Americans and segregationists could accept. It spoke to a racially integrated future for the country, but in a language that was carefully crafted not to generate the African American cause. Stamped on public memory and now part of the national narrative about the meaning of American democracy, it became one of the most famous breakthroughs from the civil rights movement, electrifying the whole crowd. At a point of the speech, Mahalia Jackson implored King to ‘Tell ’em about the ‘Dream,’ Martin.’ After hearing those words, King soon moved away from his prepared text and began: ‘I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its reed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’ (Aol. Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech: Full text).
For the first time, many white Americans understood the civil rights movement and what protesters aimed for. The speech brought great exposure and later helped secure the passage of the Civil rights Act of 1964. Pleased with the absence of violence and the relative moderation of the demands presented by the speakers during the March on Washington, President John F. Kennedy invited key civil rights leaders to the White House. Kennedy held a brief discussion of proposed civil rights legislation with President Kennedy. Kennedy had been watching and listening to the march from his TV inside the White House. Kennedy was stunned and proud of the civil rights leaders, but mostly was satisfied with Kings, ‘I Have a Dream’, speech. As people comment, ‘The March was considered a ‘triumph of managed protest’ and Kennedy felt it was a victory for him as well-bolstering the chances for his civil rights bill.’ (Wikipedia: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom). Overall, the march assumed global significant, effectively presenting the cause of the African American freedom movement to an international audience.
Although the March on Washington drew great attention for a much needed peaceful change in society, violence against African Americans still continued.
On Sunday, September 15, 1963, at 10:22 a.m., a bomb was planted in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in an act of racial terrorism, from a group known as the Ku Klux Klan. The Baptist Church has long been a significant center for the city’s black population and a place of gathering for Civil rights organizers and leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. Some 400 people were in the church that morning, preparing for their Sunday services and school classes. Getting dressed in their churches apparel in the women’s bathroom, four young girls,
14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and 11-year-old Denise McNair were found dead beneath the rubble from the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. 20 people were injured and the 4 little girls were found dead. Blacks in Birmingham, and across the country, were outraged by the sight they saw. Violence erupted and blacks protested, many were arrested, and two young African American boys were killed by police officers. King had influenced the blacks to resist from fighting and to continue with nonviolence.
King told Governor Wallace, the 45th governor of Alabama, ‘The blood of the four little children is on your hands. Your irresponsible and misguided actions have created in Birmingham and Alabama the atmosphere that has induced continued violence and now murder.’
On February 26, 1965, activist Jimmie Lee Jackson died after being shot by a state trooper, James Bonard Fowler, during a peaceful march in nearby Marion, Alabama. In honor or Jackson’s death and to refocus the community’s outrage, King and the SCLC, called for a march of dramatic length, from Selma to the state capital Alabama, Montgomery.