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‘The words are what hit everybody’

Library explores story behind King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech

CHRISTINE HARKINSON/The Sun: The Moorestown Library’s discussion of Martin Luther Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” included the fact that former Palmyra resident Clarence Jones helped King write the speech.

Burlington County Parks’ curator Marisa Bozarth took residents behind the scenes of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Moorestown Library on Jan. 5, noting the contribution of one former South Jersey resident.

“Everybody’s familiar with the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, everybody knows about the March on Washington,” she said, referencing the August 1963 day when King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial.  

“ … But for most people, unless you’re a scholar of history, that’s as much as you know,” Bozarth added. “You don’t know the backstory as to what caused it, who was planning it and what all happened.”

Bozarth emphasized that her presentation gave residents an opportunity to learn more about different points in King’s speech.

“We always hear the ‘I Have a Dream’ piece, which is phenomenal,” she noted, “and it was the turning point for people and made the march what it was, but the rest of the speech is just as good, and we never hear it. It has some really good points in it, and the way it’s written I think is very good.”

According to the King Institute at Stanford University, former Palmyra resident Clarence Jones helped King draft the speech, a surprise to many.

“ … You get halfway through the presentation and then say, ‘By the way, the guy that wrote the speech is from Palmyra,’ and people are like, ‘He’s what?’” Bozarth noted. “There’s things that happened here, people that came from here, that make a huge difference, not just in their own town, but worldwide.”

Bozarth shared what she finds most interesting about the historic march, and what she hopes people take away from the speech’s history.

“For how horrible it is, I still think it’s interesting that after he gives this speech, people are so threatened by this guy, who is a minister who’s preaching peace,” she observed. “I want people to realize that it wasn’t just this one, unplanned moment in time, It was a 20-year process to lead up to the march.”

“It wasn’t just, somebody woke up in the morning and said, ‘We need to do this,’” Bozarth added. “ … It’s good for people to understand that there was a process to all of this, and it wasn’t all pretty.”

According to history.com, “I Have a Dream” was delivered before a crowd of some 250,000 people, and King used universal themes to depict the struggles of African Americans before closing with an improvised riff on his dreams of equality.

Bozarth enjoyed seeing people who attended the event hear King’s message once more.

“Some of the words that came from it are so significant,” she said. “The words are what changed people … The words are what hit everybody, and that’s what started this movement even further.”

“It’s just nice I think for people to hear them again, and maybe they’ll get something from them.”

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