Today marks 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr made that famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to a crowd of over 250, 000 people.
As I was driving home to let the sewer drainage man into my house (seriously grim situation) I heard on Radio 2 about some of the background to MLK giving the speech.
His people had encouraged him to steer away from the ‘dream talk’ he was so famous for speaking about. They were worried it was getting old and that the crowd would no longer be roused by it, inspired by it – so he went with a different speech altogether for August 28th 1963.
As he began, his voice was shaking – overwelmed by the magnitude of the event he was engaging. The crowd must have been able to sense his tentativeness because shortly into his speech gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted out above the crowd ‘Tell us about your dream, Martin!’.
From that flowed one of histories greatest improvised rhetorics.
As Clarence Page described it, “Like an oratorical jazz musician he smoothly segued into an improvised version of the ‘dream’ refrain that he had used to great effect in speeches earlier that year.”
In the prior drafts of his speech, the “I have a dream” refrain does not appear.
He almost didn’t do it. He almost missed out on inspiring millions of people world-wide, but someone encouraged him. Someone was bold enough to see him teetering on his potential to inspire and called it out of him.
It seems to me we could do with a whole lot more Mahalia Jacksons these days. People that call out the greatness in others, unthreatened by their boldness and ready to join them in seeing their dreams become reality.