If TV viewers had widespread access to remote controls in 1963, it’s likely most people would have refrained from channel surfing away from the powerful, passionate, persuasive oration by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Toledo student remarked Wednesday on the 50th anniversary of the “I Have A Dream” speech.
“It was so powerful. Martin Luther King had listeners wrapped in his words,” said Josh Kruzel, 16, a junior at St. Francis de Sales High School, who noted that the speech spoke to everyone, the message clicking with America and making an impression that changed history, including passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Students in teacher Chris Stein’s contemporary U.S. history class at the high school shifted their studies to the Aug. 28, 1963, “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by the clergyman and activist to 250,000 civil rights supporters.
Given from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the speech was originally titled “Normalcy Never Again,” but that didn’t have quite the same ring as “I Have A Dream,” noted Mr. Stein, who said his class would study civil rights in November, but the lesson Wednesday was held to coincide with the anniversary because of the speech’s importance then and in the years that followed.
The speech, Mr. Stein said, was broadcast by all three major networks, showing its importance to a nation struggling with civil rights issues. He showed the class black-and-white photographs of peaceful protests that turned violent as whites reacted to blacks seated at restaurant counters or in the front seats of buses.
He told his class how Mr. King’s speech took a turn to its now famous “I Have A Dream” sequence after gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called out to Mr. King, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin,” and as he did — “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” — he presented what is hailed today as a masterpiece of words that spoke to the nation, that spoke about letting freedom ring from the snow-capped Colorado Rockies, to the hills and molehills of Mississippi, to the mighty New York mountains.
St. Francis junior Jurry Taalib-Deen of Toledo described the speech as “extremely deep. He spoke of suffering and oppression that was going through the United States. All he wanted the United States to know is that they promised freedom, pursuit of happiness to all people.”
Jurry also stated that “the segregation in the south was so strong, with no happiness, no love, peace, nor rights,” and that “MLK told everyone not to hold onto their sorrows but let them go.”
Classmate Sam Klausner of Lambertville wrote in his reflection on the speech that civil rights activists such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers advocated violence, however, Mr. King “did his demonstrations peacefully and as an outcome it worked. King’s speech is one of the most important pieces in contemporary history because its outcome helped pass legislation that eased segregation and gave rights to African-Americans.”
The speech concluded with words that 50 years later raise goosebumps and prompt people to action: “When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement 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 spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’ ”
There was no doubt about the meaning behind those words, according to junior James Coyle of Toledo. “His words inspire and fill you up as you listen. His message is clear, he and his followers will not rest until they have what they are fighting for; freedom.”
He also noted the level of respect shown by participants of the march. “Suits, ties, dresses, and heels are all around,” he pointed out, adding, “A man who is able to reach out not only to his friends, but to his enemies, and win their hearts wields such a grade of character and moral compass that I feel as if he is still unmatched.”
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