IT may be a day late, but I can't think of a better way to recognize the importance of MLK Day than to share this video of great Mahalia Jackson singing "I've Been Buked and I've Been Scorned" before Dr King's I Have A Dream speech and "How I Got Over" after at the 28 August 1963 March On Washington. We're still trying to fulfill your dream, our dream, Dr King, and we keep on keepin' on through the faith Sister Jackson proclaims so beautifully in song......
Jackson, known as the Queen of Gospel, was a musical legend who helped bring gospel from church to mass audiences. She mentored Aretha Franklin and Della Reese, and in 1961 was the first gospel singer to win a Grammy. She was also instrumental to the civil rights movement, especially as a good friend of King's.
Jackson was devoted to King, and accompanied him into the most hostile parts of the segregated South for rallies and demonstrations. Even in moments when King felt discouraged, he would call Jackson on the phone just to hear her sing.
This bond of mutual inspiration and respect between King and Jackson came at a pivotal moment during the 1963 March on Washington.
King had struggled with his speech, which was supposed to be kept to five minutes. His advisers argued over which themes he should include. King himself was torn between two metaphors he liked, figuring he only had time for one.
There was the image of a "bad check," representing America's failure to deliver on her promises of freedom to her black citizens. And then there was the idea of King's "dream" for a nation undivided by racial tensions, which he had used in speeches throughout the previous year in cities like Detroit and Birmingham, Alabama. Check out the Detroit version of the speech here — it has a lot in common with the much more famous March on Washington version, but the rhetoric is a bit less soaring and the grievances a bit more specific.
But during delivery, King started improvising a bit when he reached a sentence that felt clunky. Instead of calling on the crowd to "go back to our communities as members of the international association for the advancement of creative dissatisfaction," he went with: "Go back to Mississippi; go back to Alabama; go back to South Carolina; go back to Georgia; go back to Louisiana; go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed."
It was at that moment, says King's adviser Clarence Jones, that Mahalia Jackson cried out: "Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!"
It was, Jones said, "one of the world’s greatest gospel singers shouting out to one of the world’s greatest Baptist preachers." Jones, who was standing about 50 feet away from King during the speech, recalled that King looked over at Jackson briefly after she shouted. "Then he takes the text of the written speech that's been prepared, and he slides it to the left side of the lectern, grabs the lectern, looks out on more than 250,000 people there assembled." Jones remembers turning to the person next to him and saying, "These people out there, they don’t know it, but they’re about ready to go to church."
Then King started speaking completely off the cuff. That ad-lib became "I Have a Dream."
Jones isn't sure, but he thinks Jackson must have heard one of King's earlier versions of the "dream" speech, and that she knew the moment called for it. Jones said when Jackson called out to King it was like a "mandate to respond," and King's body language transformed from lecturer to preacher. "I have never seen him speak the way I saw him on that day," Jones said. "It was as if some cosmic transcendental force came down and occupied his body. It was the same body, the same voice, but the voice had something I had never heard before."
It's no wonder Jackson was King's favorite gospel singer, and that he would be so inspired by her at just the right time. Here's Jackson singing "I Been 'Buked and I Been Scorned" at the March on Washington right before King spoke. She would have had her place in civil rights history with this performance even without what came next.
ALL RIGHTS TO CBS.
For more on other amazing women entertainers and activists who shaped the March on Washington and the civil rights movement, check out this great slideshow from the Root.
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I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. [Applause]
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.
But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But 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. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. 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 will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. 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 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.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, 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."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four 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.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Recorded during the historic 1963 March On Washington. Mahalia sings "How I Got Over" after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. finished delivering his famous "I Have A Dream" speech.