The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is among America’s best-recognized civil rights activists. His many accomplishments include his “I Have A Dream” speech that he gave on August 28, 1963, in Washington, DC. King, however, first gave that now-famous speech in Detroit.
In the spring of 1963, Detroiters looked for a way to commemorate the anniversary of racial violence that tore through their city twenty years earlier that left 34 people dead and hundreds injured. The Detroit Council for Human Rights called for a “Walk to Freedom,” because many of “the same basic, underlying causes” of the 1943 disturbance were “still present.”
On June 23, 1963, an estimated 125,000 people marched down Detroit’s Woodward Avenue carrying placards and singing “We Shall Overcome.” National and state leaders who marched along with Reverend King included United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther, former Michigan governor John B. Swainson, and Detroit mayor Jerome Cavanagh.
The march ended at Cobo Hall where the Reverend King was cheered by thousands of marchers when he emphasized that segregation needed to end. A veteran of the struggle to end racial segregation, King believed that it was the duty of African Americans to take part in demonstrations like the Walk to Freedom, which he called, “one of the most wonderful things that has happened in America.”
An advocate of nonviolent tactics who had endured police brutality in marches calling for desegregation, King spoke of having a “dream” where whites and blacks were “walking together, hand in hand,” in harmony and equality. Two months later, he shared these same thoughts with thousands of AmericansÔøΩboth blacks and whitesÔøΩat a rally at the Lincoln Memorial in the nation’s capital.
Later that year, King was named the TIME magazine man of the year. The following year, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. On April 4, 1968, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
PHOTO: The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in Detroit in June 1963.
CREDIT: Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University
For more great stories on Michigan’s past, look to Michigan History magazine. For more information or a free trial issue, call (800) 366-3703 or visit http://www.michiganhistorymagazine.com/.