USF Professor Recalls Role In King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech
SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his defining “I Have a Dream” speech. A Bay Area man who was one of Dr. King’s closest advisors told KPIX 5 the words that made it famous were not even in the final script.
Dr. Clarence Jones stood 50 feet behind King when he gave the speech of his life during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.
“It was as if a cosmic force took over the physical form of the body,” Jones said.
Today, Jones teaches at the University of San Francisco. He wrote a book about being King’s political advisor, lawyer and speech writer.
In 1960, King visited Jones at his home near Los Angeles and asked him to join his legal team. Jones’ wife viewed King as a superstar.
“An amalgamation of George Clooney, Michael Jackson, Denzel Washington and Matt Damon all combined, all melded into one, were coming,” Jones said.
But Jones didn’t want to move from California to Alabama and refused King’s request.
“She said, ‘What do you think you’re doing that’s so important that you can’t help this man who’s come all this distance to ask for your help?’” Jones recalled.
But then Jones heard King’s powerful preaching in person and agreed to move.
In 1963, Jones wrote the first seven paragraphs of King’s famous speech, which was delivered at the Lincoln Memorial before a record crowd of 250,000 people and was broadcast live on TV.
When Jones drafted the original “I Have a Dream Speech,” Dr. King made some changes. But the words “I have a dream” were never part of the text.
Jones said after King read the script, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson spoke out on the stage.
“She shouted to him, ‘Tell ’em about the dream, Martin. Tell ’em about the dream,’” Jones recalled. “The rest of the speech that’s been a celebrated speech was all extemporaneous and spontaneous.”
Encouraged by the crowd, King proclaimed, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”
Jones said, “He could hear people shouting to him, ‘Well, preach it Martin, well! Oh, praise the Lord!”
Within weeks, Jones got the speech copyrighted.
And while the words fueled the Civil Rights Movement, Jones said back then, no one realized their enduring legacy.
“He was America’s moral compass,” Jones reflected, “pointing us to the North star of our decency.”
An event at 6 p.m. Tuesday night at USF will honor Jones, who is now 82 years old. He will also mark the 50th anniversary of the speech in Washington D.C. next Wednesday at an event that President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend.
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