SALT LAKE CITY — On Friday — 57 years to the day since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech — the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March commences in Washington, D.C.
King’s “I Have a Dream” speech closed out the original March on Washington (full name: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom). That march — featuring a speech from the late John Lewis — pushed for a federal law banning employment discrimination, which was legal prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to USA Today.
“Almost everybody anticipated that this was going to be a really threatening and violent event,” said William P. Jones, author of “The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights,” according to USA Today.
“Because the ’63 march was so effective it became a model.”
Audio clips of King’s full speech can be hard to find online. Because of this, it sometimes gets overlooked that prior to the well-known “I Have a Dream” segment that comes near the end of the speech, the reverend mentions police brutality — twice.
“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, when will you be satisfied?” King says. “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
A few months before that first March on Washington in 1963, The New York Times reported that a Black woman resisted a policeman’s attempt to remove her from a sidewalk during a segregation protest in Birmingham, Alabama, according to Time. Five officers wrestled her to the pavement, and one of them pinned her down, placing his knee on her neck.
Fifty-seven years later, Friday’s March on Washington, also rooted in calls for racial justice and equality, comes on the heels of several police killings of Black people this year — including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and, most recently, the shooting of Jacob Blake, who currently remains hospitalized, according to CNN. On Wednesday, Blake’s shooting prompted NBA teams to boycott their playoff games and other sports leagues to follow suit in solidarity.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who is hosting Friday’s demonstration, said there’s a need for national police reform. The Rev. Sharpton is calling for the U.S. Senate to enact the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — legislation that would end practices like no-knock warrants and chokeholds, according to USA Today.
In addition, the march is also calling for the Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to stop voter suppression of people of color.
“What we are saying is the same thing they said 57 years ago: You need federal law,” the Rev. Sharpton said, according to USA Today. “What people are doing in different states is good, but you didn’t get Jim Crow outlawed state by state. You got federal law with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
The Rev. Sharpton isn’t alone in thinking that. More than half a century after his father’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King III said America is “nowhere near” fulfilling his father’s dream, according to USA Today.
“I do think incremental progress is being made,” he said. “I do not think monumental progress has formulated. But people are not going to stop (protesting) until we see some things begin to happen differently.”
Here are five passages from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, given on Aug. 28, 1963, that carry heightened relevance today.
- “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
- “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
- “Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. ... There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, when will you be satisfied? We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. ... No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
- “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”
- “Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream 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.”
Read the speech’s full transcript at npr.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed Jacob Blake among recent police killings.