On this day in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech

As a crowd of nearly 250,000 people gathered outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these historic words: “I have a dream.”

That was today in 1963. His pivotal speech not only helped bring the Civil Rights Movement even more to the forefront, it also pressured Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act, which they did the following year.

The March on Washington was a revolutionary event at the time. People came from all over the country to attend, with one boy — Robert Avery, who was just 15 years old — hitchhiking almost 700 miles from Alabama to reach Washington.

The civil rights leader Martin Luther King (C) waves to supporters 28 August 1963 on the Mall in Washington DC (Washington Monument in background) during the “March on Washington”. King said the march was “the greatest demonstration of freedom in the history of the United States.” Martin Luther King was assassinated on 04 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. James Earl Ray confessed to shooting King and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. King’s killing sent shock waves through American society at the time, and is still regarded as a landmark event in recent US history. AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO / – (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

Celebrities, too, traveled to attend the march. Harry Belafonte, actor and singer, extensively advocated for the match, bringing other celebrities to the march and encouraging studio heads in Hollywood to allow other actors to attend.

Their presence not only led to increased media attention — it also helped ease some of then-President John F. Kennedy’s anxieties about the march turning violent.

Even now, half a century later, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington continue to resonate, and the speech continues to represent a significant moment in history. A panel of scholars in 1999ranked the best speeches of the 20th century, and they put King’s speech at No. 1 — ahead of Kennedy’s 1961 “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You” inaugural address.

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