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60 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. gave an early version of 'I Have A Dream' speech

MILES PARKS, HOST:

The city of Detroit is honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend. It was 60 years ago that he held a march there, the Walk to Freedom, and gave a sort of preview of his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. Here's NPR's Juma Sei with the story.

JUMA SEI, BYLINE: It's a rainy and overcast morning in downtown Detroit, but dozens have gathered anyway on the waterfront for one of the events in this weekend's June Jubilee. The four-day-long celebration commemorates the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech at a place called Cobo Hall. One of the people here is Zora Nunley.

ZORA NUNLEY: We would not be here today without the people that fought for us. As a young person, I feel honored to serve as a reminder that we're here because somebody decided, I'm not standing for this, and I'm going to do something about it.

SEI: Nunley is a high school sophomore. She says Detroit breeds excellence. She's proud of the city's many legendary musicians and prominent civil rights activists. She thinks that King saw that too.

NUNLEY: Dr. King came to the city and felt that spirit and said, yes, this has inspired me to do what I need to do - give one of the greatest speeches of all time.

SEI: This year, organizers are unveiling a new statue of Dr. King.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: ...Three, two, one.

(CHEERING)

SEI: Six decades ago, when the Walk to Freedom originally happened, more than 125,000 people showed up. They processed several miles along Woodward Avenue - that's Detroit's major thoroughfare. At the march's conclusion, King spoke about the recent murder of a friend and fellow activist, Medgar Evers. He was killed just a few days prior. King said that Evers didn't die in vain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: There are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true that they are worth dying for.

(CHEERING)

SEI: The young reverend also spoke about discrimination in the North, about segregation in the education system, prejudice in the job market and unequal access to housing. He roused the audience with a familiar refrain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KING: I have a dream this afternoon that one day right here in Detroit, Negroes will be able to buy a house or rent a house anywhere that their money will carry them.

SEI: Some call this speech an early version of his "I Have A Dream" address. That speech would later be immortalized at the Lincoln Memorial.

(CROSSTALK)

SEI: Back at Detroit's waterfront, Reverend Wendell Anthony says Dr. King didn't just come to Detroit with a dream - he came with a plan.

WENDELL ANTHONY: The plan is for America to live up to its creed. The plan is for us to have economic equity and opportunity and parity, for America to be the land of free, the home of the brave for everybody.

SEI: Anthony is president of the Detroit NAACP. He says his organization didn't support the original Walk to Freedom back in 1963. King, he says, was, quote, "a little too radical" for the NAACP at the time. That's why Anthony is so committed to celebrating the march.

ANTHONY: And in 1993, we helped to lead it. 2003 - we helped to lead it. 2013 - we helped to lead it. Both times, NAACP - so I think we've done penitence since that 1963 issue.

SEI: Anthony says there's still a lot of work to do when it comes to achieving equality for Black Americans, especially on issues like voting rights and education.

ANTHONY: We got to make sure that people understand that there's a high cost of freedom.

SEI: It's up to Black folks to keep reminding the nation of this cost. That's why he's marching for freedom.

Juma Sei, NPR News, Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Juma Sei
Juma Sei is a 2022-2023 Kroc Fellow at NPR. He is a Sierra Leonean-American from Portland, Oregon, and a 2022 graduate of Yale College.

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