Fun Facts About 'I Have a Dream' Speech to Impress Your Kids


Martin Luther King, Jr.There’s been a lot of talk in our house about the “I Have a Dream” speech. In honor of Dr. King’s birthday, Girl Child’s social studies teacher assigned students to copy the text — all 17 minutes worth — but no one was feeling spirited about it. I, of course, was thrilled because not only is MLK one of the greatest intellectuals and humanitarians, but that is one of the most rousing speeches ever delivered.

But unless you have a conscientious social prodigy on your hands, it’s mission impossible to get kids to even pretend to be interested in it. Quiet as its kept until Monday morning, we’re going on over to the brand new King memorial here in D.C. to hear the reading of the speech. Maybe if I wow her with these fun facts about “I Have a Dream” beforehand, she’ll be more into it. But she’s 13, so I doubt it. Still, I’ll share, in case you have better luck with your children. 

1. It was the highlight of the March on Washington.
Thousands had gathered in D.C. to participate in the historic protest that started at the Washington Monument and ended at the Lincoln Memorial. The speech was watched by between 200,000–300,000 people — numbers differ depending on who’s telling the story — and millions more viewed it live from home. It was the largest march of the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s speech was the defining moment.

2. He drew from an olla podrida of inspirations.
If you pay attention, you can catch references to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, even Shakespeare. And of course, there were plenty of references to Biblical scripture. After all, he was a minister.

3. He remixed the original version on the spot.
Standing in front of almost a quarter million people might not seem like the time to revise what you planned to say. Dr. King had a speech all written and ready for that day, but he started ad libbing toward the end when gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” He scrapped the papers and went into what he knew best — preaching — and accented his sentences with “I have a dream.” But those words were never part of his original speech. He winged it on the spot.

4. He procrastinated. Just a little bit.
When a guy’s trying to rid a nation of inequality, social perversion, and injustice, it kind of cuts into his speechwriting time. Dr. King was so busy organizing the march that 12 hours before he was scheduled to stand in front of the masses at the Lincoln Memorial, he didn’t even know what he was going to talk about, much less have anything written.

5. It’s the greatest of all time.
“I Have a Dream” has been ranked the top speech of the 20th century and hasn’t budged from that spot since he delivered it on August 28, 1963. Its influence and impact also led to Dr. King becoming the youngest recipient — and the second black winner — of the Nobel Peace Prize one year later.

6. He’s still standing on that historic spot.
The brand new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial — which is so appropriately peace-filled and beautiful, if you haven’t seen it yet — was completed in October 2011 and has been designed so that the statue of Dr. King looks directly at the Lincoln Memorial, where he delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech.

It may take some coaxing and bribing — or threatening — to get them to sit through it, but I think the speech is something all kids need to see. It’s so impassioned and heartfelt, but poignant and relevant to the times, that even they can find something in it to connect with and, hopefully, commit to memory.

What, if anything, have you taught your kids about Dr. King? What have they learned in school?

Image via runneralan2004/Flickr

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MegTh... MegTheGem

You're forgetting that he also PLAGARIZED nearly the entire speech. I don't remember from whom he stole it from, but it wasn't his.

nonmember avatar Renee

MegTheGem, please educate yourself. King's speech was not "plagiarized". That being said, it's a beautiful speech. I'm glad that a Civil Rights leader is being celebrated. We have to remember that segregation wasn't that long ago; It's amazing how far we have come.

EvaSa... EvaSamuel

I took an African American Literature class in college and my professor (who worked with SNICK) never mentioned it was plagiarized. I think you may be mistaken.

EvaSa... EvaSamuel

Pardon me, SNCC. Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

alisa... alisabethjaimes

No, I remember reading a few weeks back that this speech, and a lot of his college essays, were plagiarized. But MLKJ is still a brilliant leader who deserves to be remembered for his contributions to American society.

nonmember avatar Rose

Snopes says that while he did copy in college, he didn't copy that speech.

Jraeh... Jraehahah

No matter what it is still the greatest speech in history.

elibee elibee

The speech was inspired and perhaps a few bits were lifted from Archibald Carey Jr's address to the 1952 Republican National Convention (both speeches end with a recitation of the first verse of Samuel Francis Smith's "America" (My Country ’Tis of Thee), and the speeches share the name of one of several mountains from which both exhort "let freedom ring". 

So what?

kkey75 kkey75

MLK was an amazing, inspiring man. Even though my daughter will grow up in a place where there are still many (my grandmother included) people who are afraid of people with differences, I hope that I can teach her that ALL people are worthy of respect and we need to celebrate the diversity in our cultures. Understanding that differences are interesting and can make life so much more fun are so important for her future and the future of our country.

kisse... kisses5050

Plagiarism is horrid and wrong in academic and professional writing .... But in  this case Should we care? I am not be snarky.. I am honestly asking. Should we care? What was the point. What was the job? Do presidents and heads of states write their own speeches? Hell even the famous Kennedy " "ask what not your country can do for you but what you can do for your country" was taken from Julius Caesar. The point is. Dr King was asked to speak. He put together mix of words so magical that he inspired generations to come.... did he make the cake from scratch or bake from a box that day? I don't know but he fed this country what it needed.

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