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50 years since King speech: Local citizens discuss its significance

Jennifer Sprouse • Aug 28, 2013 at 7:12 AM

Fifty years ago today, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech at the Lincoln Memorial that for many was a symbolic “cashing of a check” for equality not yet seen in the United States.

King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, that he and the many people who marched to Washington were there on the memorial’s steps to see that the rights laid out to all Americans in the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were realized and put into action for all people.

Remembering the 1963 speech, Johnson Citian Wayne Robertson said he was not able to watch the live broadcast of the speech because he was working, but said he was able to catch King’s message of hope later that day.

“I thought that maybe America was taking a step forward, rather than another half step or a step backwards,” Robertson said. “I was very enthused over it. Hearing the speech still brings chills. It has so many things in it — hope, hope to the future.”

Margaret Davis said she was 9 years old and living in Washington at the time of King’s March on Washington, but said she only remembers the speech being discussed in school.

“At the 25-year anniversary of the speech, my children participated in an apartheid rally in conjunction with the anniversary and I think that showed that there has been progress globally,” Davis said.

She said the speech, originally focusing on jobs, poverty and education — more so with people of color — are the same issues many still face in society today.

Jonesborough Alderman Adam Dickson said his first introduction to King’s speech was doing a research assignment as an eighth-grader at Jonesborough Middle School.

“It was kind of like a historical autobiography,” Dickson said. “The assignment was that you ... had to make yourself a character in a real historical event. I pretended like I was a friend of Dr. King and that I marched with him and that we traveled all over the country. I talked about the speech in that research paper ... so that was probably the first time that I had heard the speech.”

Dickson said while he believes the “I Have a Dream” speech made a big impact on the country, he said it still plays a role in the values he tries to identify with daily.

“The speech still has a very meaningful role in my life being a public servant wanting to see genuine interracial inclusion in the community,” Dickson said. “So many times we have this conversation about ‘is this dream a reality?’ I wonder sometimes if the speech was more in line of a specific blueprint for American society or was it really supposed to give us kind of a mind set as to where we need to be as a society.”

Dickson said he sees the real force behind the speech in more spiritual terms, rather than reading into the wording.

“I think that the spirit behind the speech is that we need to have an attitude of inclusion. We need to have hearts of love and openness,” Dickson said.

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton will join President Barack Obama at a “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony today from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Lincoln Memorial, with a nationwide bell ringing at 3 p.m., according to the Associated Press.

According to the AP, Caroline Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker and Jamie Foxx will also speak at the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington.

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