DREAM COME TRUE: Dr. Clarence Benjamin Jones reflects on his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his book Behind The Dream: The Making of the Speech That Transformed a Nation.
Photography by Jeff Singer
That was the theme of this language I had suggested Martin consider using in the opening six or seven paragraphs of his speech. Honestly, I did not know until I was standing behind him on the platform about 50 feet away, until he began to speak, that he was reading the text that I had suggested he consider. Maybe he liked it so well, or maybe he thought it was just what we had talked about, or maybe it was just easier. Whatever the reason, he didn’t change a sentence, he didn’t change a comma, a period … nothing. He just read it verbatim, as I had drafted it, the first seven paragraphs at least.

Then after that, as was customary, he added his own language.

At some point, Mahalia Jackson, the renowned gospel singer, shouts to him, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin! Tell ’em about the dream!” I often thought, when I was writing my book, “Why did she shout that?” She was really his favorite gospel singer. He had a lot of respect for her.

Was it because Mahalia was unhappy with what he had said up to that point? Or maybe she was just so much in the moment that she wanted to shout something that she didn’t want him to omit?

NOW YOU KNOW: After giving his speech, Dr. King gave the typewritten copy to now-retired basketball coach George Raveling, who has it to this day.
I saw him take the written text and hold it to the left side of the lectern and look out at the more than 250,000 people. Seeing this, I said to somebody, “These people don’t know it, but they’re about ready to go to church.” Before Mahalia had shouted to him, Dr. King stood at the lectern like he was delivering a lecture. But when Mahalia Jackson said, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin,” his whole body language changed.

The rest of the speech thereafter was extemporaneous. He looked down at some notes at the end, but the balance was spontaneous.

I had heard and seen Martin King speak many times, but I had never, ever, ever heard or seen him speak that way. It was as if some cosmic force had come down and taken over his body. I was watching the body of Martin King, but I was seeing something I had never seen before.

It was not so much the profoundness of the content. It was a good speech. It was the way he delivered it with such extraordinary passion. It was like catching lightning in a bottle. 

MICHAEL VENTRE is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for Variety, Los Angeles Confidential magazine, NBCSports.com and many other publications.