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Dr. King Shines at Washington March

Aug. 28, 1963 - At today’s massive march on Washington, there was one man who touched and ignited the vast multitude most deeply: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Until his speech late in the afternoon, the pilgrimage was merely a great spectacle. But Dr. King brought the crowd alive with a deeply stirring address that slowly but inexorably gathered momentum. “I have a dream,” he cried again and again. And each time, the dream was a promise out of our American articles of faith: phrases from the Constitution, lines from the national anthem, guarantees from the Bill of Rights, all ending with a vision that they might one day all come true. Dr. King touched all the themes of the day, only better than anybody else. He was full of the symbolism of Lincoln and Gandhi and the cadences of the Bible. As Dr. King concluded with a quotation from a Negro hymn — “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty” — the crowd, recognizing that he was finishing, roared as one and waved their signs and pennants. The 34-year-old minister was both militant and sad, and he sent the crowd away feeling that the long journey had been worthwhile. The question of the day was raised by Dr. King’s theme: was the struggle to end racial discrimination all a dream, or will it come true? No doubt today’s vast effort helped the Negro civil rights drive. It was better covered by television and the press than any event in Washington since President Kennedy’s inauguration. And since indifference is almost as great a problem to the Negro as hostility, this was a plus. The crowd obviously impressed the politicians. The presence of nearly a quarter million petitioners anywhere always makes a Senator think. Whether this will win any new votes for President Kennedy’s civil rights and economic legislation will probably depend on the overall effect of the day’s events on the television audience. Author James Baldwin summed up the day succinctly. The day was important in itself, he said, and “what we do with this day is even more important.”


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