August 28, 1963
He loved ice cream and playing the game Monopoly. He hated doing dishes, And, in the house he grew up in – the “Williams House”, named after his grandfather – he was required to recite a Bible verse at the dinner table before eating. The verse he always selected was John 11:35, “Jesus wept.”
Early on, his mother wanted to prepare him for the world, to explain discrimination and segregation, but it was difficult explaining that to a small child. She told him never to allow himself to feel “less than” or you are “not equal to.” She added, “You are as good as anyone.”
He grew up during the Great Depression, when many Americans struggled to find work and feed their families.
From the age of 3, young Michael had been best friends with another boy. Young Michael was black, and his friend was white, but it didn’t matter to either of them. They enjoyed each other’s company, and they loved playing together, that’s all that mattered. They were the best of friends.
But, at the age of 6, as they started school, Michael’s friend started acting differently toward him. He finally confided to Michael that his father told him he could no longer play with him.
Michael thought he did something wrong, something his friends’ parents disapproved of. His parents finally had to explain to him, it was nothing he did, it was because Michael’s skin was a different color.
It was “the first time I was made aware of the existence of a race problem,” he would later write.
“As my parents discussed some of the tragedies that had resulted from this problem and some of the insults they themselves had confronted on account of it, I was greatly shocked,” he added.
Michael could still not understand, why the color of his skin mattered, and why people would hate him because of it.
That’s when his mother tried to “explain discrimination and segregation to a small child,” he wrote. “She taught me that I should feel a sense of ‘somebodiness’ but that on the other hand I had to go out and face a system that stared me in the face every day saying you are ‘less than,’ you are ‘not equal to.’ She told me about slavery and how it ended with the Civil War. She tried to explain the divided system of the South — the segregated schools, restaurants, theaters, housing; the white and colored signs on drinking fountains, waiting rooms, lavatories — as a social condition rather than a natural order. She made it clear that she opposed this system and that I must never allow it to make me feel inferior. Then she said the words that almost every Negro hears before he can yet understand the injustice that makes them necessary: ‘You are as good as anyone.’ At this time Mother had no idea that the little boy in her arms would years later be involved in a struggle against the system she was speaking of.”
Every once in a while, young Michael would see the frustration and anger his father felt whenever he was discriminated against. A sharecropper’s son, his father had met brutalities at firsthand, and had begun to strike back at an early age. He remembers his father telling him about his early experiences, when a plantation owner told his father (Michael’s grandfather) “Jim, if you don’t keep this ni*ger boy of yours in his place, I am going to slap him down.”
“My father would learn about civil rights, become president of the NAACP in Atlanta,” he said.
Both of his parents, however, would tell him that he “should not hate the white man, but that it was my duty as a Christian to love him. The question arose in my mind: How could I love a race of people who hated me and who had been responsible for breaking me up with one of my best childhood friends? This was a great question in my mind for a number of years.”
Michael would see more of the world his parents told him about. “For a long, long time I could not go swimming, until there was a Negro YMCA,” he wrote. “A Negro child in Atlanta could not go to any public park. I could not go to the so-called white schools. In many of the stores downtown, I couldn’t go to a lunch counter to buy a hamburger or a cup of coffee. I could not attend any of the theaters. There were one or two Negro theaters, but they didn’t get any of the main pictures. If they did get them, they got them two or three years later.”
He remembers when he was eight years old, when a white lady accused him of stepping on her foot and slapped him, saying, “You are that nig*er that stepped on my foot.” He remembered “seeing the Klan actually beat a Negro,” saying, “I had passed spots where Negroes had been savagely lynched. All of these things did something to my growing personality.”
With all the injustices he and his family would face, his father decided it was a good time to take a “vacation,” to go out of the country. The family took a trip overseas. His father would learn about a monk, who was known as a reformer and a leader, who would change the world fighting for justice and equality.
So inspired by this monk, Michael’s father would change his name and that of Michael’s name, reflecting the monk’s name.
The monk’s name was Martin Luther.
When Michael / Martin got to high school he remembered having to always sit in the back of the bus, even when front seats were empty, they were always reserved for “whites” “so Negroes had to stand over empty seats,” he wrote. “I would end up having to go to the back of that bus with my body, but every time I got on that bus I left my mind up on the front seat. And I said to myself, ‘One of these days, I’m going to put my body up there where my mind is.’
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. (Michael) walked up to the podium at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. More than 250,000 people gathered peacefully that day.
He had a prepared speech, with his advisers recommending he not talk about “dreams,” because, “It’s trite and cliché, and you’ve used it too many times already.”
He mentioned how even after the Emancipation Proclamation, “the Negro still is not free . . . still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination . . . The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity . . . The Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.”
“It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment,” he said. “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality . . . 1963 is not an end, but a beginning . . . And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”
“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality . . . We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one . . . No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Eleven minutes into his sixteen-minute speech, Dr. King would pause, taking it all in, his journey, the moment, the people, both black and white, listening, hoping for peace. Some say he heard singer Mahalia Jackson shout, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!”
Dr. King then set aside his prepared speech and started speaking from his heart:
“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.’
“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.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
~ “I Have a Dream”, August 28, 1963
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” Speech – videocredits History