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Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech That Inspired a Nation

Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech That Inspired a Nation

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by Drew Hansen

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On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., electrified the nation when he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In The Dream, Drew D. Hansen explores the fascinating and little-known history of King's legendary address. The Dream insightfully considers how King's speech "has slowly remade the American


On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., electrified the nation when he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In The Dream, Drew D. Hansen explores the fascinating and little-known history of King's legendary address. The Dream insightfully considers how King's speech "has slowly remade the American imagination," and led us closer to King's visionary goal of a redeemed America.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Drew D. Hansen traces the speech's path to immortality in The Dream, a swift-moving and plainly written examination of King's speech, the events leading to its composition, and ways in which Americans' assessment of it changed in the decades that have followed. — Jabari Asim
Publishers Weekly
Hansen wasn't yet born on August 28, 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his momentous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, at the first mass march on Washington of the modern Civil Rights movement. Decades later, Hansen studied the Civil Rights movement and the Constitution at Yale law school and found he kept coming back to King's speech, continually impressed by how large its message looms in 20th-century American history. King's words, Hansen claims, proved to be a keystone for understanding the social and political upheaval of those times: "He gave the nation a vocabulary to express what was happening." Hansen begins this debut by recounting the weeks leading up to the march - the strain in the streets, the apprehension of authorities and the mood of King and his inner circle. King, who delivered sermons and speeches almost daily, knew that this would be the biggest address of his career, and he prepared carefully. For inspiration he read the Bible, the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence (the speech alludes to all three). The core of the book is Hansen's studious line-by-line analysis of the speech itself-King's choice of words and phrases, his intonation, his allusions, his targets. In the end, Hansen maintains, the speech is timeless because it goes right to the core of democratic principles, and as such can be held up as inspiration for the disenfranchised across cultures. Try as he might to employ a loose, personal narrative, The Dream sometimes reads a bit didactically, but it is serious, scholarly and engaged, a fitting contribution to the 40th anniversary of the speech and the march. (July 11) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this extended essay in meaning, Rhodes Scholar Hansen uses an explication of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech at the massive August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to re-examine 50 years of civil rights struggle in America. He focuses on the speech's composition and compares its text as prepared and as delivered to mark its prophecy. Received slowly from 1963 to King's assassination in 1968, the meaning of King's dream of redeeming America has faded in the speech's misuse and over-quotation and needs to be recovered, Hansen argues. Others have treated King as leader and preacher and assayed his rhetoric and impact, but Hansen scores a signal triumph with a sharply focused exegesis that re-exposes America's soul to the moral of one of its most famous speeches. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of this speech, Hansen's book is recommended for public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/03.]-Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fan’s notes on the speech that garnered wide acceptance largely through MLK’s vision of what America could become, rather than a condemnation of what it was. A Rhodes scholar in theology, Hansen, born the year after that 1963 event in Washington, D.C., first revisits the 1960s, with snapshots of the burgeoning civil-rights landscape. In three southern states, for example, no black child attended an integrated school; in the 100 counties of the South with the highest ratio of African-American population, fewer than nine percent of nonwhites were registered to vote. (King's principal objective was to denounce both Jim Crow laws in the South and the pernicious de facto segregation in the North.) Hansen then examines the most memorable of King’s thousands of speeches as a historical artifact: What is it that has sustained its remembrance? Were the thoughts and the language King’s alone? King took the podium at the end of the day, Hansen reminds, after many well-known civil-rights figures had spoken. He hadn’t had much national exposure until then, but a few minutes standing before the Lincoln Memorial changed all that, vaulting him into the national spotlight and forefront of black leadership. In closely analyzing the text of the speech, the author compares supporting drafts of two associates and King’s own final written version with the actual spoken words. There’s no doubt that King’s extensive departures from prepared text formed the most eloquent and inspiring moments. Further probing suggests how lifelong immersion in the language of the King James Bible may have melded with King’s unabashed borrowing of like-minded activists’ utterances to provide grist for "the dream." Studiedanatomy of one bold moment of extemporaneous triumph.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Dream

Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation
By Drew Hansen


ISBN: 0060084766

Chapter One

The March on Washington for
Jobs and Freedom

Some of the marchers left a few days early so that they would be sure to reach Washington by August 28, 1963. A Los Angeles pants presser named David Parker loaded five friends into his Ford and set off across the country because, as he later told a reporter, his people had troubles. In Brooklyn, twelve young members of CORE started walking the 237 miles to the capital. The Local 593 Mine, Mill, and Smelter workers took up a collection at the Anaconda American Brass Company plant in Buffalo and gave it to the NAACP to pay the fares of unemployed workers who wanted to go to Washington. Forty unemployed men from Cleveland, Mississippi, took the bus up North after raising the thirty-three-dollar fare by selling shares in their tickets at a dollar apiece.

In Chicago, the passengers of two chartered trains crowded together at the station to listen to final instructions from their captains. Then the trains took off for the overnight trip to Washington. A three-piece jazz combo set up at the end of one car and played tunes for the riders. Some passengers sang along:

This train don't carry no liars, this train ...

This train is bound for glory, this train ...

Six buses left Alabama on Tuesday morning, August 27, with garment bags holding fresh clothes hanging from the overhead handrails. Some passengers started the trip singing, but as the twenty-two-hour journey went on, they began to talk about what it meant for them to go to Washington. Many of the marchers had been beaten by Bull Connor's troops or had spent time in the Birmingham jail. "They ought to know who we are," said one. "After all, we're the ones who started the whole freedom movement."

In the days before August 28, buses, cars, and trains from all over the country set out for Washington. Three buses with more than one hundred demonstrators left from the General Baptist Convention headquarters in Milwaukee. A chartered train left Pittsburgh, and another one left Detroit. A caravan of two hundred cars set out from North Carolina. Buses left Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

In Boston, a teacher at the Freedom School in Roxbury abandoned her plans to fly to the march and climbed aboard a bus. A sixty-seven-year-old dressmaker from Memphis said to herself, "I'm going to lay aside my patterns and be a part of it." A cabdriver from New York drove his cab for awhile on Tuesday evening and then said, "That's it. I'm going to Washington because it's a duty that has to be done."

On Tuesday night, a band of SNCC staff members joined teenagers from Albany, Georgia, in a vigil at the Department of Justice. Earlier in August, the Department had indicted several members of the Albany movement for obstruction of justice, in an action arising out of their boycott of a white man's store. Justice attorneys believed the boycott had been called because the store owner had served on a jury that had dismissed a civil suit brought by a black man who had been shot in the neck by a white sheriff. The Albany activists insisted that they were protesting the store's racist hiring practices. They wondered why their relatively insignificant boycott was attracting so much federal attention when the government had not prevented the Albany police from assaulting the city's black citizens. One SNCC member carried a sign that read "when there is no justice, what is the state, but a robber band enlarged?" Another sign proclaimed "even the federal government is a white man."

At one-thirty in the morning on Wednesday, August 28, whole blocks of Harlem had all their lights on as residents gathered at bus depots, community houses, and churches to cheer the departing marchers. "You tell them, tell them for me," yelled people in the crowd as the marchers filed onto the buses that lined 125th street for a block on each side. "They look just like soldiers going off," said an elderly woman. One man shouted, "Tell them I want a job!" A decorated veteran told a reporter, "If I was proud of these medals I wouldn't be on this bus. It makes my blood boil to see Negroes dying for our country and then kids not able to go to school in Little Rock or Virginia." By dawn on Wednesday, according to FBI surveillance figures, 972 chartered buses and 13 special trains, carrying a total of 55,000 people, had left New York for Washington.

The FBI field offices - mindful of the director's insistence that surveillance of the marchers was the "personal and continuing responsibility" of the special agents in charge - deployed agents across the nation to track the demonstrators' progress. The Knoxville office notified headquarters when an NAACP-chartered bus carrying thirty-five passengers had left Chattanooga. The Phoenix field office provided the names of the four Phoenix residents who were driving to Washington. An agent watched as the Houston delegation boarded a Greyhound bus (license number T-345) and counted the people on it ("fifteen Negro males, and nine Negro females"). One hundred forty field agents were dispatched to Union Station and the D.C. area airports to observe the marchers' arrivals and departures, with instructions to keep a particular watch for "subversives."

As the buses from all over the country rolled through the August night, people who couldn't make the trip gathered on the shoulders of highways to cheer the marchers along the way. At toll booths, passengers noticed that local farmers had brought their children out to watch the caravans. A few buses made an early morning stop at a church, where volunteers had been up all night preparing breakfast for bus after bus that came through. Early on Wednesday morning, the first demonstrators reached Washington ...


Excerpted from The Dream by Drew Hansen
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Drew D. Hansen, a Harvard graduate and a Rhodes Scholar, studied theology at Oxford University, and went on to earn his J.D. at Yale Law School. He practices law in Seattle.

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