HomeSpotlight on Ethnic Media60 Years Ago, Gospel Singer Mahalia Jackson Made a Suggestion to Martin...

60 Years Ago, Gospel Singer Mahalia Jackson Made a Suggestion to Martin Luther King Jr

It changed a good speech to a majestic sermon on the American dream. Dr. King delivered his historic speech Aug. 28, 1963.

By Bev-Freda Jackson, American University School of Public Affairs, via Atlanta Daily World

Every now and then, a voice can matter. Mahalia Jackson had one of them.

Known around the world as the “Queen of Gospel,” Jackson used her powerful voice to work in the Civil Rights Movement. Starting in the 1950s, she traveled with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the South and heard him preach in Black churches about a vision that only he could see.

But on Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, something didn’t quite sound right to Jackson as she listened to King deliver his prepared speech. King was reading from his prepared remarks when she made a simple suggestion.

“Tell them about the dream, Martin,” she urged King, “tell them about the dream.”

Inspired, King cast aside his prepared remarks and ad-libbed from his heart. For the estimated 250,000 who joined the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that day, they heard King deliver one of his seminal sermons.

“I have a dream,” King preached, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Though most memorable, King’s voice wasn’t the only one that day 60 years ago. The other voice, the one King listened to and heeded, belonged to Mahalia Jackson.

“A voice like hers comes along once in a millennium,” King once said.

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