LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES
Interview With Coretta Scott King
Aired August 28, 2003 - 20:36 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Today marks the anniversary of a pivotal time in U.S. history. It was 40 years ago today that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. brought the struggle for civil rights by black Americans to the national forefront. King's largely extemporaneous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that day declared his dream for a free America for all people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: One day (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: And earlier in an exclusive interview I talked with Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, about that day. And at her request, our discussion focused only on her husband's now famous "I have a dream speech" and the message it carries today. I asked her how that speech has survived the passage of time.
CORETTA SCOTT KING, WIDOW OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: Well, I think the speech has endured because it was a speech that was delivered with a great deal of thought and passion and commitment. I think Martin Luther King Jr. spoke from his heart that day, and because he worked very hard on the speech, all night it seems to me, I think that he was focused. And at the moment he began to speak I think that there was an extra power that he was given, because I think he was connected to a higher power.
ZAHN: You say he spoke from his heart, which probably allowed for him to so effectively speak extemporaneously. When you heard the "I have a dream" portion of the speech, were you surprised? Because that's nothing you ever saw before on paper, was it?
KING: Well, no, but I had heard him speak some of the words on other occasions, and I also later learned that when he gave the speech at a march in Detroit, in June -- that previous June, there was a march on Detroit. And if you hear that speech that he gave there, and the speech that he gave in Washington, you would almost think it was the same speech, but they were different, but they were very similar.
And he had used some of the phrases before. But knowing Martin, he memorized things. He had a great capacity for memorizing. And I think he spent a lot of his time memorizing that passage, but he didn't write it down because actually each person was given eight minutes and he wasn't supposed to speak as long as he did. And I think he tried to shorten his speech that he wrote on paper.
But he wasn't able to get it as short as he wanted it to be, so therefore he didn't want to add that part. But I think he decided at the spur of the moment if the crowd responded, if it was going well, if he got inspired, that he probably would give the speech. And I think that's why we never saw a written copy.
ZAHN: That's probably one of those rare speeches where the folks listening to it didn't complain when it went a minute or two over. Let's come back to the process of writing this speech. How much of the material in the "I have a dream" speech did he test with you?
Did he ever practice at home? Did he ask you about the effectiveness of the lines so he'd learn how it might resonate with an audience?
KING: Well actually, he started the draft earlier in the summer. It was in July when we were away on vacation up in New York, as a matter of fact. He started -- did an early draft. But of course, that draft did not last and the night of the -- the night before the march he was sitting in the parlor at the hotel and what he did was to ask me to give him synonyms for various words. And another staff person and I were in the room.
And we kept trying to think of another word. He would give us a word -- naturally I can't remember all of that -- but he would give us a word and we would give him the synonym because we knew he was trying get the right word for what he wanted to say.
ZAHN: Finally tonight, Mrs. King, do you believe that dream is still alive today in the United States?
KING: Yes, I do. I think it's very much alive. But I don't think it's fulfilled. And I think the dream is in the hearts of millions of people, and many people who were not even activated in 1963. Various groups that really became activated after the Civil Rights Act from 1964, like women, like senior citizens, people with disabilities, like gay and lesbians, and so many others.
ZAHN: Well Mrs. King, we appreciate you dropping by at a very busy time in your life. And thank you for talking a little bit about the impact of that very special speech.
KING: Well, thank you very much for inviting me.
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