MLK’s iconic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech has origins in Huntsville

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Dr. martin Luther King, Jr. once gave an earlier version of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to Oakwood College students. (mlkonline.net)

When you think about the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Lither King — especially today on the national celebration of his birthday — one cannot help but remember his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech delivered in Washington, DC, in 1963.

But did you know that his famous speech actually has Huntsville ties, as he delivered an earlier version of the speech at Huntsville’s Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) in 1962. Here’s some more info:

“I have a dream…”

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This is the flyer from MLK’s visit to Oakwood College. (Encyclopedia of Alabama)

Dr. King delivered his famous speech on race relations in the United States at the March on Washington rally August 28, 1963. His words from that speech have been quoted (and unfortunately also MIS-quoted) for more than 50 years and passages of his “I Have a Dream” speech still resonate in so much of today’s rhetoric.

However, on March 19, 1962, King delivered a version of the speech at Huntsville’s Oakwood College. According to a report by FOX-54, students at Oakwood at the time remember the speech well.

“It was major, I mean the campus was just on fire that Dr. Martin Luther King was coming to Oakwood. People didn’t even know Oakwood. We were rather a small insignificant church-supported college. But to have that kind of notoriety was big and as a student, we were just pumped. It was fantastic. Many of the themes that he presented at the Mall in Washington D.C. a year later, you can hear on that tape in 1962. So you might say he was that proving ground.”

Oakwood College graduate D. Tim McDonald in a FOX-54 interview

MLK motivates Huntsville to be a civil rights catalyst

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Oakwood University (then Oakwood College) received a visit from Dr. King in 1962, where he delivered an early version of his “I Have a Dream” speech. (Oakwood University via Facebook)

King delivered two speeches during his 1962 visit to Huntsville — at Oakwood College and the First Missionary Baptist Church — and these speeches drew tremendous crowds, including many white federal workers who had been transplanted into Huntsville.

King’s presence in Huntsville sparked the the civil rights movement, and motivated its leaders to make changes in Huntsville. Within the year, Huntsville would become the first integrated city in Alabama.

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Michael Seale
Michael Seale
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