The most famous speech ever delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was almost not the speech we remember.
Dr. King was speaking at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on August 28, 1963. The occasion was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He was the keynote speaker.
Toward the end of his address, he read from his prepared manuscript: “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 ghettoes of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”
He then paused for ten seconds as the crowd cheered him on. During that pause, the trajectory of the speech was transformed.
Clarence B. Jones, the man who wrote the speech from Dr. King’s previous messages and thoughts, said later that he heard someone from the stage shout to Dr. King, “Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream.”
It was Mahalia Jackson, Dr. King’s favorite gospel singer.
‘Free at last, free at last’
Dr. King then slid his prepared manuscript to the left of the lectern, paused, and spoke these immortal words: “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”
He proceeded for the last five minutes of his speech to speak extemporaneously and spontaneously about his dream for America and the freedom he sought for all her people.
He then concluded with words that echo still today: “Free at last, free at last. Great God Almighty, we are free at last.”
It has been said that coincidence is when God prefers to remain anonymous. His sovereignty is so universal that he knows when a sparrow falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29) or a friend offers support during a speech. And our acts of service, like Mahalia Jackson’s word of encouragement, may not be recognized by others, but they can make a difference that changes the world.
Alfred North Whitehead noted that great people plant trees they will never sit under.
What seeds of God’s word and grace will you plant today?