Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation
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Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation

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by Clarence B. Jones, Stuart Connelly

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"I have a dream." When those words were spoken on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, the crowd stood, electrified, as Martin Luther King, Jr. brought the plight of African Americans to the public consciousness and firmly established himself as one of the greatest orators of all time. Behind the Dream is a thrilling, behind-the-scenes


"I have a dream." When those words were spoken on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, the crowd stood, electrified, as Martin Luther King, Jr. brought the plight of African Americans to the public consciousness and firmly established himself as one of the greatest orators of all time. Behind the Dream is a thrilling, behind-the-scenes account of the weeks leading up to the great event, as told by Clarence Jones, co-writer of the speech and close confidant to King. Jones was there, on the road, collaborating with the great minds of the time, and hammering out the ideas and the speech that would shape the civil rights movement and inspire Americans for years to come.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A revealing insider's account of how King improvised parts of his 'I Have a Dream' speech at 1963's March on Washington.” —USA TODAY

“Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the course of American history by challenging – and inspiring – the country to confront injustice and live up to our founding ideals. The words he spoke at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 will forever be immortalized for their beauty and power, and they will forever echo in the soul of American life. Jones and Connelly capture the fascinating story behind this historic moment, shedding new light on a speech that ushered in a new dawn for the nation.” —Mayor Michael Bloomberg

“The author provides numerous intriguing insider insights about life on the road with King. . . . Essential reading about a moment of surpassing political and moral importance.” —Kirkus [starred review]

“The words of Dr. King live on as a gift to our country. As someone who stood beside him during those years, Clarence B Jones puts them in context and brings the stories around them to life. He and Stuart Connelly take us inside the greatest moments of the American civil rights movement and behind the scenes of a speech that awakened our collective conscience” —Soledad O'Brien

“America would be a very different place if it weren't for the hard work of men like Clarence Jones. Different -- and vastly less just. Behind the Dream takes us behind the scenes of Dr. King's historic ‘I Have a Dream' speech, which Jones helped write. It's a story that is as remarkable as it is inspiring.” —Arianna Huffington

“The words 'I Have a Dream' are as applicable today as they were all those years ago. Behind The Dream provides a beautiful glimpse at the origins of an enduring work. Clarence B. Jones illuminates the history in a way no one else could. To learn the story of the speech's creation from the man who was there is to appreciate Martin's genius all the more.” —Betty Williams,Nobel Peace Laureate, President and Founder, World Centers of Compassion for Children International.

“What elevates this book above most scholarly tomes is its rare and invaluable insider's insight into not only the happenings of the day but also the people involved.” —Irish Examiner

“The book is wonderful, and rewarding for students of public speaking as well as of the civil rights era. Jones is particularly skilled at giving us the contingent nature of events as the happen, and that is a great gift to anyone who wants to understand where we've really come from. Highly recommended.” —Nick Morgan,

Library Journal
Clarence Jones (scholar-in-residence, Martin Luther King Jr. Inst., Stanford Univ.) was counsel and speechwriter to Martin Luther King Jr. and here relates the organizing efforts and events that led to the 1963 March on Washington and King's historic "I have a dream" speech. Jones describes the internal debates among the march organizers and captures both the excitement and the perils of such organizing in 1960s America. He describes the illegal wiretapping efforts of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI generally in surveillance of King and the Civil Rights Movement and recounts John F. Kennedy's role in the movement. Jones provides firsthand accounts of such historic moments as receiving from King the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" scrawled on toilet paper. He also explains how the dream speech was ultimately improvised by King, who was inspired by Mahalia Jackson to eschew his prepared speech in favor of "the dream." Jones ends his work by linking the past with the present, including the significance of Barack Obama's presidency. Verdict This book will appeal to a wide audience interested in the legacy of American civil rights and 20th-century history.—Karen Okamoto, John Jay Coll. of Criminal Justice Lib., New York
Kirkus Reviews

With the assistance of filmmaker and Huffington Post contributor Connelly, Jones, who was present at the creation of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, revisits the forces that generated the 1963 March on Washington and that animated the speech that now represents an entire era.

The author, a former attorney for King, does not offer a detailed account of how King and his advisors crafted the speech; for that, see Drew Hansen'sThe Dream (2003) or Eric J. Sundquist'sKing's Dream (2009).In fact, writes Jones, he did not even see a final copy before he heard it, but he was pleased that King kept his suggestion for the initial image of the promissory note. However, the author provides numerous intriguing insider insights about life on the road with King—notably, the amusing moment when Jones, frustrated with the egos of some of the other speakers elbowing for position in the event's final, prime slot, asked if any of them really wanted to follow King to the podium; none did. Jones also confirms a couple of stories: that the Justice Department did indeed have a "kill switch" on the sound system, and that gospel singer Mahalia Jackson urged Kingduring the speech to talk about his dream, at which point King turned his prepared remarks face down and continued somewhat extemporaneously. Jones explains how and why he, at the last minute, copyrighted the speech, and he pays homage to Nelson Rockefeller and Sen. Ted Kennedy—though he is less generous to JFK and RFK. He describes severe worries and frustration, given that the daunting logistics of the March, and ends with some reflections on America's enduring racism, the contentious issue of reparations and the uneven presidency of Barack Obama.

Essential reading about a moment of surpassing political and moral importance.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
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5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

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Behind the Dream

The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation

By Clarence B. Jones, Stuart Connelly

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2012 Clarence B. Jones
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-33755-8



They cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of their bondage.

—Exodus 2:23


Considering its colossal historic significance, there is a fundamental irony surrounding the 1963 March on Washington: It was not actually the brainchild of the Civil Rights Movement, nor even an idea borne of the 1960s.

More than a generation earlier, in 1941, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, A. Philip Randolph, had conceived of the original "March on Washington" as a way to pressure President Franklin D. Roosevelt into ensuring Negroes had jobs in the bustling American industries jump-started by our nation's entrance into World War II. Among historians he is widely acknowledged as the ideological godfather of our August 28, 1963 "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." Randolph's proposed demonstration was a serious, organized affair, and in fact the looming shadow of the event was enough pressure for Roosevelt. He was able to negotiate the march's cancellation with Randolph at the last minute only by giving in. Roosevelt issued the country's first Presidential Executive Order protecting African American rights in the twentieth century. It was only the second such order in our country's history (the first had been the Emancipation Proclamation), and the long time between these two presidential orders had not been kind to African Americans. Randolph moved on to other tactics—in 1948 his Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service was instrumental in guiding President Harry S. Truman to issue his own decree (Executive Order 9981) banning racial discrimination in the military—but deep down he saw the rally as a missed opportunity.

Twenty-one years after his canceled march, Randolph was very carefully following the unsuccessful campaign of Martin Luther King, Jr. to desegregate public accommodations and facilities in Albany, Georgia. Bayard Rustin was one of Martin's close advisors and had been mentored by Randolph years earlier. In the late spring of 1963, Randolph reached out to Bayard and talked to him about the possibility of staging a large demonstration in Washington, D.C. as a retooled version of his idea. It was a notion that he had never relinquished. Trying ideas out on each other, Bayard and Randolph eventually envisioned a two-day program of organized rallies, linking civil rights to the national economic demands of working-class people. They planned to put together a coalition to bring in labor unions and unorganized workers in protest. They imagined sit-ins at congressional offices and similar "direct-action" strategies that would force lawmakers to take notice. Excited, Bayard agreed to suggest the concept to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Dr. King's civil rights organization of black clergymen. Martin had formalized the SCLC in early 1957 following the yearlong 1956 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama that he had spearheaded. With the success of that boycott, he saw the power a tight affiliation of religious leaders could bring to a problem and understood that the way to make further progress was to become further organized.

Bayard came to Martin at a fortunate point in time. After the successful campaign that led to the desegregation of public facilities and department stores in Birmingham, Alabama in May 1963, Martin and other civil rights leaders began informal discussions to consider their next strategic move. Across the country Martin had many friends among the clergy as well as laypeople, but at that time the two people he consulted with almost daily were New Yorkers: Stanley Levison and me. We were among his closest advisors on matters of fund raising, political strategy, and how to deal most effectively with the media. So when Bayard presented Martin with The March as a potential opportunity, Stanley and I were part of the strategic brain trust that considered the pros and cons. Stanley was a smart and dedicated New York businessman. He was also Jewish and white. Bayard had introduced him to Martin in 1956. Stanley became devoted to Martin and remained a tireless supporter of The Movement and the King legacy until his death in 1979. Stanley was a well-educated lawyer who had plenty of other options to pursue in his life; I have always considered that his work in support of Dr. King made him worthy of our nation's highest civilian award for outstanding public service.

Together, along with Martin's other advisors—Harry Wachtel, Cleveland Robinson, Professor Lawrence Reddick, and Reverends Thomas Kilgore, Walter Fauntroy, Wyatt Tee Walker, Andy Young, and Ralph Abernathy—we formed Dr. King's inner circle. Unknown to us at the time, the FBI turned out to be a silent partner in that inner circle as well.

My home and office phones were tapped by the federal government. They had been watching me on and off for more than five years, and it would continue for another four. I wouldn't see actual evidence of this surveillance for almost twenty years, but it didn't surprise me when I learned of its existence. Martin always thought my caution bordered on paranoia, but during my time in the military I had had some experience with the people who make the rules, and I knew they did not play by them. And though the wiretaps may have been illegal, I can imagine that permission to set them was not hard to obtain, the times being what they were. We were square in the middle of the deepest part of the Cold War, and if any government organization, particularly an investigatory agency like the FBI, slapped a communist label on you, regardless of the facts, all the rules went out the window. Whether his suspicions were right or wrong, when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover decided to play the "red" card with anyone, the Justice Department would approve the surveillance request. And with the stroke of Attorney General Robert Kennedy's pen, the Civil Rights Movement leaders' right to privacy was merely another casualty in the war against the Soviet Union. The methodology is not too far off from the post–September 11, 2001 hysteria; some inverted version of the PATRIOT Act that said America must invade the privacy of men and women peacefully striving to achieve freedom and equality for all. It was as if spying on citizens is clearly underscored in our Declaration of Independence or our national anthem, anywhere we crow to the world about how open and compassionate we are as a nation.

Well, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Rustin, Stanley Levison, and I had nothing to hide. At first, anyway. That would soon change. Before the month of June was out we would be in the position of trying to obfuscate Stanley and Martin's working relationship and believing we were getting away with it. But for the time being, had we known we were wiretapped, it wouldn't have changed the substance of the conversations one bit.

There was, in retrospect, some upside to the invasion of privacy. Part of our strategy was to make the government nervous, and it happened effortlessly. As we talked about the logistics of such an undertaking, the government listened. As we moved closer to an understanding of just what needed to be done, they worried. And when we came up with a plan to stage The March effectively, the government shuddered at what it could mean for race relations in America. Because, regardless of whether it is just or not, any ruling body depends on the stability of the status quo. In that era, Negroes were second-class citizens, and the machinery of society seemed to hum along just fine under that pretense. Equality may well be good for black people, but no one was sure what a level racial playing field would mean to the nation as a whole. Segregation may have been hellish, but it was the devil we all knew.

We understood that if those in authority learned about our idea for a demonstration, it might well be regarded as a threat to the stability of our government. What we didn't know was that our plans were already being broadcast to the highest levels of government. During the early summer days of 1963, hundreds upon hundreds of transcript pages were piling up concerning the conversations we were having about The March:

Martin Luther King, Jr., had also been thinking about some new and larger form of demonstration. He said to his aides, "We are on a breakthrough.... We need a mass protest," and told them that offers of help had come from certain trade unions and from Paul Newman and Marlon Brando—both "Kennedy men."

* * *

King asked the aides to contact Randolph to see if they could all work together.

* * *

Jones called an unwoman [unknown woman] and told her that Dr. Martin L. King was coming to town today, and would be staying at his house.

* * *

Reverend King stated that he planned to attend a conference soon with leaders of other organizations in order to discuss the March on Washington with them. Levison suggested to King that King take advantage of the two public appearances he will make in New York City, during the coming week, to announce his plans for the March on Washington and the demonstrations that will go along with it.

Yes, the government had a direct line to all our planning and strategy. The question that information brought to the door of the Kennedy White House was: What, if anything, was the government going to do about it?


The FBI had some understanding of what was at stake for American Negroes. For example, I find the subtext in this declassified FBI summary memo illuminating:

On June 11th—the same day that Kennedy made his historic civil rights speech and the eve of Medgar Evers's murder—King announced to the press plans for a march on Washington.

Now, domestic intelligence write-ups are not typically valued for their editorial content, but this memo tied together both the hopeful—Kennedy's speech—and the dreadful—Evers' horrible slaying—when it simply could have stated, "King announced plans for a march on Washington." Why? Because everyone knew, even if they didn't all want to face it, that lives were on the line in the effort to remake America. That truth had a way of working its way out, seeping into the very air around us and creeping into minds of even the FBI agents who actually were tasked with preventing racial justice.

The March was happening. On July 2, less than a month after Martin's announcement, he and Randolph booked a conference room at the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan. We held a meeting that was attended by nearly two dozen desegregation activists, including the other four Civil Rights Movement leaders who, along with Martin and Randolph, comprised the "Big Six": John Lewis, Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, and Whitney Young, Jr. It was in that room that The March organization was established. A vote was held to determine who would take on the vital role of chief coordinator. Bayard Rustin, one of The March's principal organizers, wanted the job. Unfortunately, he was met by opposition from some of the other leaders. There was Bayard's earlier membership in the Young Communist League to consider, some argued. A bigger stumbling block was his homosexuality. Even those closest to Bayard had to acknowledge that his 1953 conviction on morals charges could cause some problems. Bayard's reaction was that most people who knew him were aware of the conviction and that it was "old hat." Martin, referencing the Bible's Gospel of John (8:7), said something to the effect of "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone." And when the vote was taken, Bayard was named chief coordinator. I loved him all the more for not backing down in the face of such harsh but, at the time, practical considerations.

There was little time to lose; with the crowded calendars of so many busy individuals to take into account, the August 28 date had not been chosen as much as backed into. If it wasn't going to happen then, it would have to wait until the following spring, something no one wanted. Bayard went into high gear in Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters West 130th Street office, now the New York City headquarters of The March. He worked tirelessly there. Never mind the planning, in a matter of days he had written (and, with respect to the maps and charts, somewhat crudely illustrated) Organizing Manual No. 1, which would become the bible of The March. By mid-July Bayard had printed and distributed two thousand copies to Movement leaders all across the country in an effort to create a coordinated system that would allow us to pull off the demonstration on an extremely short timetable.

Martin had been of two minds regarding the entire enterprise. He knew that The March was the right idea and that Randolph's concept had come back around at just the right time. But Birmingham had taken a lot out of him. In the aftermath, he had wanted nothing more than to take his wife, Coretta, and his four children away for a vacation and forget—forget the looming deadline for his book (Why We Can't Wait, Harper & Row, 1964), the office politics of running the ever-growing SCLC, the constant need to raise funds to sustain the staff and support the various civil rights programs, and the demands for appearances from all over the country that he had a difficult time turning down.

Martin had gone on record with his advisors, saying that he didn't believe he could plan such a massive undertaking under his usual working conditions, which consisted mainly of endless interruptions and demands for him to make decisions on projects outside the scope of what he was trying to accomplish at the time. No, if this march were going to come together under such a tight deadline (particularly with the issues of raising money and getting cooperation from other civil rights groups still up in the air), he would have to escape all the distractions. Get away to a place where very few people knew how to reach him.

The logistics of planning for the March on Washington dictated that Martin be available by phone and possibly in person while he was on "vacation," so he, Stanley, and I decided it made practical sense for him to stay at my home. Of course, what seemed a perfectly reasonable strategic move for Dr. King's leadership team was more like a headache for my wife, Anne, and our family—mostly because it required that we move out.

My family and I had returned to New York from Southern California in 1961 and settled in Riverdale, a suburban community in the West Bronx. At the time, our choice of location was influenced by the availability of good schools, public and private, and proximity to the residence of Arthur Kinoy, Esq., one of my legal mentors. Anne and I had rented a five-bedroom house while we awaited the construction of our new home on land we had purchased nearby. The spacious rental house was off 254th Street, next door to the Arturo Toscanini estate, and was a quick four-block walk from the Metro North Railroad station that headed into Grand Central Station. The house had an enormous sunken living room and a recreation room, but as we packed up to make the place ready for Martin and his family, I realized quickly what I would be missing most there at the beginning of a hot August: The deck overlooking the Hudson River and the nearby community pool to which we were about to turn over our access.

To compound matters, Anne and I were asked by Ralph Abernathy to find a rental home in Riverdale for him and his wife, Juanita. (Reverend Abernathy traveled with Dr. King on most civil rights demonstrations and considered himself a "co-leader" of the SCLC.) We had our hands full finding a place for ourselves. Anne and I eventually contacted neighbors we were friendly with, Peter and Cora Weiss, who generously allowed us to stay in their home for three weeks while they were vacationing in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. This act of unselfish generosity by the Weisses in support of Martin was singularly important to the strategic planning of the March on Washington. Anne felt especially put upon because she was the one to follow up on all the calls I made to neighbors trying to enlist their assistance in finding a house for the Abernathys.

But for all this clumsy shuffling around, we worked quietly. The plan was that no one from the outside world should be able to penetrate Martin's getaway, and we managed to pull that off—sort of. According to a memo from the Atlanta field office of the FBI to J. Edgar Hoover:

Jones states that only four individuals will know where King will be staying.

Yes, four individuals and the entire Justice Department.

While Martin was there, my house was the de facto command and control center for the SCLC. Away from the hectic day-to-day activity in Atlanta, he was able to fully concentrate on the work at hand. During the weekends, Anne would go with our children to her mother's house in Wilton, Connecticut. I would remain in Riverdale so I could be available to Martin, and Stanley would consult with me by phone. Together, the three of us started to sort out how the mechanics of The March might work. It was a logistical operation on a scale we had never attempted. The churches, which always played a pivotal role, were absolutely critical here. They were the way to focus the "ground troops"—those people who wanted to change the world but didn't feel empowered to take an individual public stand. Naturally, there was an enormous difference between a focused and goal-oriented endeavor like a local bus boycott and a massive drive across the country to illustrate an overarching point about segregation and racial inequality. Travel operations were going to play a major role. People might be willing to march from the Washington Monument to our planned destination, the Capitol steps, but someone had to get them to the Washington Monument first.


Excerpted from Behind the Dream by Clarence B. Jones, Stuart Connelly. Copyright © 2012 Clarence B. Jones. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Clarence B. Jones served as speechwriter and counsel to Martin Luther King, Jr. and is currently a scholar-in-residence and visiting professor at Stanford University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute. Selected by Time magazine in 1972 as one of "The 100 Future Leaders of America," and twice recognized in Fortune magazine as "A Businessman of the Month," Jones has received numerous state and national awards recognizing his significant contributions to American society. He lives in Palo Alto, CA.

Stuart Connelly is an author and filmmaker. He is a recent National Educational Press Association Award winner and blogs for The Huffington Post. He divides his time between rural Pennsylvania and New York.

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Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
PDoherty More than 1 year ago
Clarence B Jones was the man behind one of the greatest speeches ever given in this country. This book gives a behind the scenes account of the moment when Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech. Very interesting.
klcob More than 1 year ago
Interesting behind the scene look at the March on Washington and King's famous speech
Anonymous More than 1 year ago