Toward the end of its delivery, noted African American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to King from the crowd, "Tell them about the dream, Martin." King departed from his prepared remarks and started "preaching" improvisationally, punctuating his points with "I have a dream." The speech was drafted with the assistance of Stanley Levison and Clarence Benjamin Jones in Riverdale, New York City.
Jones has said that "the logistical preparations for the march were so burdensome that the speech was not a priority for us" and that, "on the evening of Tuesday, Aug.
He says that "America has given the Negro people a bad check", but that "we've come to cash this check" by marching in Washington, D. King's speech used words and ideas from his own speeches and other texts.
For years, he had spoken about dreams, quoted from Samuel Francis Smith's popular patriotic hymn "America" ("My Country, 'Tis of Thee"), and referred extensively to the Bible.
I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream – one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, "We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream ... King had the power, the ability, and the capacity to transform those steps on the Lincoln Memorial into a monumental area that will forever be recognized.
Among the most quoted lines of the speech are "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. By speaking the way he did, he educated, he inspired, he informed not just the people there, but people throughout America and unborn generations." The speech draws upon appeals to America's myths as a nation founded to provide freedom and justice to all people, and then reinforces and transcends those secular mythologies by placing them within a spiritual context by arguing that racial justice is also in accord with God's will.
Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.
C., the speech was a defining moment of the civil rights movement and among the most iconic speeches in American history.
King had been preaching about dreams since 1960, when he gave a speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) called "The Negro and the American Dream".
This speech discusses the gap between the American dream and reality, saying that overt white supremacists have violated the dream, and that "our federal government has also scarred the dream through its apathy and hypocrisy, its betrayal of the cause of justice".