Those words that you know by heart – those words that you’ve heard a thousand times – were never written down.
It was the March on Washington in August of 1963, and as Dr. Martin Luther King, JR, approached the end of his speech, delivering his words across the reflective pools to hundreds of thousands of people, there was an applause. And in this, there was a pause in his speech, which lasted five or ten seconds. Martin took a breath.
And that’s when the poet spoke.
Mahalia Jackson, the epic gospel singer and advisor to MLK, had opened that day. She was a teacher to Aretha Franklin, and a guide to so many singers of that time that were rising up. As the crown cheered, and momentum was gaining with his speech, she called up from one row down and said,
“Tell them about the dream, Martin!”
Mahalia knew all too well that the speech that he had given in Detroit a couple of months before. The dream had struck her deeply.
She also knew this was the moment to deliver it. “Tell them about the dream!”
Martin trusted her so deeply that he knew this was a moment to pull, not from his written words, not from the speech in front of him. He put the speech to the side and he pulled from his insights, and pulled from his lessons, from his riffs from before.
This was the moment.
“I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream.”
And the rest is embedded in history.
But it wasn’t embedded in the text that his team sent to the news media that morning, the words they had hammered it out the night before when they were up until four AM, figuring out what will be said on that very, very special day.
The dream was shared because Martin trusted his alliance with Mahalia so deeply.
This moment marked a deeper preparation than writing a speech. The power here was in his ability to hold all of this past big ideas, like the shuffling of cards through his mind, in a ready state to bring out when the moment served.
And the moment served to lay everything on the line for the right line of the moment – one that would carry through time – and into the realm of dreams.
Retold with credit to Clarence Jones, drawn from his book Behind the Dream