Most people know Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream Speech,” delivered in 1963 during the March on Washington. But King gave other electrifying and pivotal speeches. In recognition of his birthday, The Chicago Reporter talked to Clayborne Carson, a Stanford University historian and leading scholar on the civil rights leader, and Martha Biondi, a professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University, and came up with three significant but lesser-known speeches by King that you should know.
1. Mass meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church, Montgomery, Ala., Dec. 5, 1955:
Four days after the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat in the white section of a bus, a 26-year-old King spoke at the first meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which organized the 13-month boycott of the city’s buses. The campaign’s success launched King’s career as a prominent civil rights leader.
2. Walk to Freedom, Detroit, Mich., June 23, 1963:
Few people know that King first used the “I Have a Dream” refrain in Detroit, six weeks before he delivered the speech at the March on Washington and two weeks after the assassination of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers. Part of King’s summer tour, the Detroit Walk to Freedom garnered more than 125,000 participants and became the largest civil rights demonstration the nation had seen at the time.
3. “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Memphis, Tenn., April 3, 1968:
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” King told the crowd at Bishop Charles Mason Temple. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.” This was his last speech; less than 24 hours later, King was shot to death on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel.