Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

Today, the third Monday of January, is recognized as Martin Luther King Junior Day in the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most widely known activists in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. He was a key leader in a national movement to improve the rights and freedoms of black people in the United States.

 

Dr. King is most famous for the speech he delivered in front of more than 200,000 people at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in which he declared,

“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.”

While Dr. King is now most famous for those four words, “I have a dream,” the entirety of his speech is powerful and moving. By clicking on the image below you can listen to the actual audio recording of Dr. King giving his speech at the March on Washington. You will also be able to see the transcript of the speech, including which parts he crossed out in the moment, and which parts he improvised without having written them down beforehand. As you listen to the speech, pay attention to metaphors you hear, and think about what Dr. King was trying to convey.

Dr. King Speech at the March on Washington
Note: You may notice that Dr. King uses the word “Negro.” At the time of his speech, “Negro” was a common way of referring to black people in the United States. But because that word has historically been used in a very negative way to refer to African Americans, today it is considered highly offensive and inappropriate. Although, there are some contexts in which black people in the U.S. have re-claimed the word in a positive way.

While Dr. King was the most well-known civil rights leader, the movement was made up of thousands of people who for years worked to improve the most basic rights of black people in the United States. Many of these people continue that important work today. Here, you can see a video of John Lewis, another well-known civil rights leader and current U.S. Congressional Representative, talking about what the civil rights movement accomplished.

Rep. John Lewis

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