August 26, 2008

King's Dream Being Realized 45 Years Later

Martin Luther King Jr. (Courtesy The Associated Press)
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Martin Luther King Jr. (Courtesy The Associated Press)

The Pittsburgh Courier, Sept. 7, 1963. (Newseum collection)
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The Pittsburgh Courier, Sept. 7, 1963. (Newseum collection)

The Dallas Morning News, Aug. 29, 1963. (Newseum collection)
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The Dallas Morning News, Aug. 29, 1963. (Newseum collection)

The Afro American, Aug. 31, 1963. (Newseum collection)
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The Afro American, Aug. 31, 1963. (Newseum collection)

The Washington Post, Aug. 29, 1963. (Newseum collection)
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The Washington Post, Aug. 29, 1963. (Newseum collection)

The New York Times, Aug. 29, 1963. (The New York Times)
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The New York Times, Aug. 29, 1963. (The New York Times)

Wisconsin Labor Advocate, Aug. 20, 1886. (Courtesy Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse)
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Wisconsin Labor Advocate, Aug. 20, 1886. (Courtesy Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse)

As Sen. Barack Obama makes history on Aug. 28, 2008, by becoming the first black major-party nominee for president of the United States, he will be fulfilling a dream that was expressed exactly 45 years ago in an electrifying speech delivered by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as part of the March on Washington.

More than 200,000 people from around the country jammed Washington’s National Mall in August 1963 in a public demand for jobs, freedom and civil rights legislation for the nation’s black citizens. It was the largest peaceful demonstration in U.S. history at the time and was backed by the six major civil rights groups in the country.

Media interest was high. Many of the nation’s major newspapers, particularly black newspapers, sent reporters to cover the march. CBS televised continuous coverage. The communications satellite Telstar beamed the march to European audiences. "All the major European countries except Spain and Portugal asked for the relayed pictures of the protest march," The New York Times reported. ABC and NBC broke into their regularly scheduled programming to broadcast King’s speech live.

When King rose to deliver what would become one of the most famous speeches in history, he was the last of 10 people on the program to make remarks. His "I Have a Dream" speech lasted approximately 16 minutes and was frequently interrupted by rousing applause.

"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," King declared. When the speech ended, its impact was widespread and immediately felt.

  • "Peroration by Dr. King Sums Up a Day the Capital Will Remember," The New York Times said the next day.
  • "Negroes Given Rallying Cry by Dr. M.L. King Jr.," the weekly Pittsburgh Courier, an African-American newspaper, declared 10 days later. The speech was a "clarion call to arms which America can never forget," the paper added.

President John F. Kennedy, who was against the march, was reportedly impressed with its orderliness and with King’s speech. "He’s damned good," he said.

Forty-five years later, King’s dream is being realized. History will determine if Obama’s much-anticipated acceptance speech rose to the occasion.

From Editor to Presidential Candidate

By Kate Kennedy, Newseum front pages editor

When Barack Obama accepts the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, he will be the first African American nominated for that office by a major party.

But he will be the latest in a long line of black Americans who have made political history.

Consider George Edwin Taylor, who accepted the National Liberty Party’s nomination for president in 1904. Taylor’s name did not make the general ballot in the voting that brought incumbent Theodore Roosevelt back to the White House. But it is believed that Taylor was the first presidential candidate from a national African-American party.

Presidential politics was not Taylor’s first endeavor. He was a newspaperman.

Taylor’s newspaper, the Wisconsin Labor Advocate of La Crosse, Wis., printed national and international news for a few years in the 1880s. The front page of the inaugural issue included "Condensed General News," "Wisconsin News Items," a story about a newlywed and a brief labeled "A Lion Tamer’s Escape."

As was the custom at the time, the newspaper supported politicians and parties. Taylor was pro-labor, and it showed in his newspaper. He edited an African-American newspaper in Iowa and worked on labor causes before throwing his hat in the presidential election ring.

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