Martin Luther King Jr.’s Rehearsal Speech in Rocky Mount

An image of Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks in Durham in 1958 from the State Archives

On November 27, 1962, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered a speech in Rocky Mount. Before a crowd of nearly 2,000 in the gymnasium at Booker T. Washington High School, King used a number of expressions that made their way into his landmark “I Have a Dream” address at the Lincoln Memorial, which was part of the March on Washington in August 1963.

Near the close he built toward these lines: “I have a dream that one day right here in Rocky Mount, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will meet at the table of brotherhood, knowing that one God brought man to the face of the Earth. I have a dream tonight that one day my little daughter and my two sons will grow up in a world not conscious of the color of their skin, but only conscious of the fact that they are members of the human race. . . .”

Clayborne Carson, editor of the King Papers, notes that while this was not the first use of the “I have a dream” phrase, it “appears to be an important new rhetorical formulation.” By the spring and summer of 1963 the words were among the most frequent of King’s refrains.

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