Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech: What does it tell us about him?


On 28 August 1963, when Martin Luther King proclaimed I Have a Dream to a crowd of 250,000 people, he captured the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement and with millions watching on TV, reached out to a nation in a way that has great resonance 50 years later. The March on Washington was a mass demonstration organised by an umbrella of civil rights groups who used it as a rallying cry for equal rights. In 1963, black Americans faced racism across America but particularly in southern states where laws forcibly segregated them from white Americans. And those who dared to stand up for racial equality could face racist attacks from Ku Klux Klansmen, who bombed homes and churches. The march marked the peak of a series of protests against racial injustice that had begun when seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white passenger in 1955. Her action sparked a bus boycott campaign across Montgomery, Alabama. Dr King was asked to lead the campaign because he was new in town, but his talent for rhetoric and his clear vision quickly brought him to national attention. He became a dominant force in the movement and so was called on to make the final speech at the march.

Why was the speech so memorable?

Although King’s famous speech was 17 minutes long, it is best remembered for the final few minutes when he pushed aside his papers and in a soaring voice painted an inspirational picture of a future America. He told the crowd: “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” He declared that America could only became a great nation if freedom applied to “all of God’s children”. The power of the speech was arguably down to the delivery as much as the content. Dr King’s speech writer Clarence B Jones confirmed in his book Behind the Dream the final section of the speech was off-script, after King gave himself over “to the spirit of the moment.” “From his body language and the tone in his voice, I knew Martin was about to transform into the superb Baptist preacher he was,” Mr Jones wrote. Brian Ward, Professor of American Studies at Northumbria University, says: “People were captivated by this final section. The rhetoric was so moving and visionary.” Dr King borrowed ideas and turns of phrases from a rich array of sources, including other orators. The conclusion of his speech where he wanted to ‘Let freedom ring’ across America was adopted from an address made by the Chicago preacher Archibald Carey in 1952. However, Dr Clayborne Carson, history professor at Stanford University and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, argues this was a strength not a weakness. Writing in the journal American Heritage, he said: “The genius of King’s I Have a Dream speech lay not in his originality but in the way he expressed ideas better than those from whom he borrowed. In turn his words have informed the oratory of subsequent generations of American political leaders.” The speech reminds us how Dr King made the Civil Rights movement appeal to a broader section of society. Zoe Colley, a lecturer on civil rights history at Dundee University, said: “He sat across white liberals, poor black southerners, and the international community. That was his most important role.”


This is demonstrated in his speech in which he declared his dream was “deeply rooted in the American dream”, and told black Americans: ‘We cannot walk alone’. “He was portraying himself as a quintessentially American leader pursuing American goals, and this appealed to northern liberals,” Professor Ward says. “Civil Rights were now seen to be in keeping with the ideals of middle America.”

Man of peace

Dr King also strongly backed peaceful protest, warning in his speech: “We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.” Civil rights historian Professor John A Kirk, of the University Arkansas at Little Rock, said Dr King’s positions had much to do with his background: “King came from a deeply Christian and middle-class background, and this was reflected in his non-violent approach.”


Student protesters are hit by water jets in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Images like these raised support for the civil rights movement. The March on Washington proved that it was possible to hold a mass peaceful protest. Just months earlier another peaceful march in Birmingham, Alabama, had been broken up when firehoses and dogs were turned on the protesters. In the wake of the march and his speech, Martin Luther King’s role in promoting harmony was recognised internationally when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. However, Ms Colley warns against taking him to “represent the whole civil rights issue.” “He was really more of a figurehead,” she says. “We shouldn’t forget beneath him there were thousands of people in the Civil Rights movement plugging away in a patchwork of communities across towns and cities.”

 Building on history: 100 years of Historic Scotland


The organisation set up to safeguard Scotland’s heritage has marked the centenary of the Act which led to its creation. The Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act was granted Royal Assent in August 1913. It was followed by a number of other Acts which eventually led to the establishment of Historic Scotland in its present form in 1991. In keeping with the interests of its earliest commissioners, the first structures taken into “the care of the state” were prehistoric remains and early Christian architecture. Within a few years castles and battle sites had been included in the portfolio which now even includes the Victorian town gas works in Biggar, Lanarkshire.

Public access

But Adrian Cox, an archaeologist for Historic Scotland, said the real significance of the Act was that it allowed people to visit them. “It introduced the concept of public access really for the first time,” he said. “For the first time it made that a proper tenet of the legislation. “It also introduced the idea of national importance, so that a site had to be shown to be nationally important before it could be taken into care as a justification.” Historic Scotland has an annual budget of £80m, slightly over half of which comes from the Scottish government. It looks after 345 properties and attracted 3.4m visitors in 2012. Admission is charged to 78 of the properties, including Edinburgh Castle, Scotland’s most popular paid-for attraction. But it also has a role in preserving more modest buildings.


In 2011-12 it dealt with 137 listed building applications – and decided 20% should be granted listed status. It is also working with the National Lottery heritage fund and local authorities in the regeneration of town centres. East Ayrshire Council has undertaken a vigorous programme of renewal in Kilmarnock town centre, to bring old, derelict buildings back to life. Councillor Jim Buchanan, the authority’s spokesman for community regeneration, said the partnership was working well. “We have received £1m for Kilmarnock town centre alone. But the council committed £16m into the project,” he said. “Historic Scotland do a really worthwhile job, but it’s not just about stately homes and castles. “It’s about the wonderful buildings we have in the town centre.” The town’s John Finnie Street, once described as the best example of Victorian town centre architecture, is now festooned with scaffolding as work progresses to renovate the old red sandstone buildings.


And 300 council workers are accommodated in the old Johnnie Walker whisky bond. Council officials point out there is no canteen there, so staff spend their cash in local shops at lunchtimes. Peter Drummonds, chairman of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, said it is an investment bringing a double return; historic buildings are preserved, and the wider economy benefits it brings. He said: “Scottish ministers have already announced seven rounds of conservation area regeneration funding. “I’d like to think we could get another two or three out of it, because the bangs for buck that we get on town centre money arguably far outweighs many hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on a remote castle or country house.” He said preserving modest examples of architectural heritage in towns has a greater impact on the lives of ordinary people.

Dinosaur teeth reveal feeding habits


Teeth from sauropod dinosaurs – the largest land animals that ever lived – reveal the feeding habits of these giants. Researchers report that Diplodocus‘ teeth were replaced as often as once a month throughout the dinosaur’s life. In contrast, the teeth of Camarasaurus, another sauropod, show less frequent replacement, but bulkier growth. This suggests that Diplodocus fed off low-lying vegetation whileCamarasaurus ate upper-canopy plants. Michael D’Emic, from Stony Brook University, New York, and co-workers used the daily layers of dentin, laid down as the dinosaur teeth grew, to determine the working lifetime and replacement rates of these massive herbivores’ teeth. Dr D’Emic explains “A nearly 100-foot-long sauropod would have had a fresh tooth in each position about every one to two months, sometimes less.” These huge plant-eaters ate enormous quantities of vegetation, and their teeth suffered heavy wear. The results are reported in the journal PLoS ONE. Dr Emily Rayfield, reader in palaeobiology at the University of Bristol, commented “Diplodocus had peg-like teeth that stuck forward and out from its long narrow jaw, while Camarasaurus had a shorter jaw with a stronger bite. Their teeth wore down as they cropped vegetation.” Dinosaurs replaced their teeth constantly throughout their life with new tooth crowns sitting deep in the jaw ready to erupt beneath each working tooth. This contrasts with mammals like us, which only replace their teeth once after birth (milk teeth and adult teeth). The results indicate that Diplodocus and Camarasaurus had different approaches to feeding, allowing them to co-exist in the same ecosystem, with Diplodocus grazing plants at ground level and Camarasaurus taking the higher-lying vegetation.

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Was T-Rex predator or scavenger, or both?

T-Rex and the one that got away

Earlier this week, a different dinosaur dental examination was described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. A tooth of the carnivorous giant, Tyrannosaurus rex, found in the back bone of a duck-billed dinosaur, a type of hadrosaur, has been used to infer the eating habits of T.Rex. The study, led by Dr David Burnham at the University of Kansas, demonstrates that the hadrosaur back bone had re-healed around the embedded T.Rex tooth, showing that it escaped from the T.Rex and continued to live for some time afterwards. Importantly, this observation feeds into a long-standing debate over whether T.Rex was a scavenger or a predator, with the authors suggesting it supports the picture of T.Rex as a predator, and not simply a carrion scavenger. It demonstrates once more the methods used by scientists to piece together the behaviour of ancient animals from fossil fragments. Dr Paul Barrett, dinosaur researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, added “When we look at the ecology of living animals, we see that carnivores generally eat whatever they can get hold of. “Hyenas, that we think of as specialist scavengers, hunt quite a bit; lions, that we think of as hunters, steal carcasses from other animals. “There is no reason to think that T.Rex, as a big carnivore, would do anything other than it would need to, to survive at the cheapest possible cost.”

Elizabeth Woodville, The White Queen: Was she a witch?


Elizabeth Woodville and her mother create a ‘magic mist’.

‘The White Queen’, Elizabeth Woodville and her mother Jacquetta conjure a mist to help her husband Edward IV defeat his enemies.

But did they really practise witchcraft? Historian Peter Maxwell-Stuart investigates the magical myth that surrounds the two women.

When the White Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, became the first ‘commoner’ to marry an English king, some muttered she may have used magic to enchant him. Edward was said to be so enamoured with her beauty that he married her in secret, rather than wed a French princess.

However, it was Elizabeth’s mother Jacquetta who was first accused of witchcraft.

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The White Queen’s mother Jacquetta on trial for witchcraft

In February 1471, Edward IV had lost the English throne after the Earl of Warwick imprisoned him in his castle and reinstated Henry VI.

Warwick also executed Elizabeth’s father, Earl Rivers. Shortly after, the now widowed Jacquetta was accused of witchcraft by one of Warwick’s squires, Thomas Wake.

He brought a broken puppet made of lead to Warwick castle, and said Jacquetta had fashioned it in order to practise witchcraft. To support his allegation, he claimed that a parish clerk called John Daunger knew of two more images, one representing Edward, the other Elizabeth.

By April, Edward was back on the throne, and his Council examined Wake and Daunger’s claims at Jacquetta’s request. Wake said he knew nothing about the puppet until Daunger showed it to him. However, Daunger claimed Wake himself had asked if he could see it. Daunger also denied saying there were images of Edward and Elizabeth. The Council dismissed the whole story.

History of witchcraft

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  • Witchcraft denounced as heresy by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484
  • Witchcraft was made a capital offence in Britain in 1542
  • Ten ‘witches’ were executed in the Pendle witch trials in Lancashire, 1612.
  • In the 1640s witch hunters Hopkins and Stearn executed dozens of East Anglian women
  • The real witch hunters: Hopkins and Stearne

In the 15th century belief in magic, white or black, was universal throughout society.

Royal persons in both France and England had long been viewed as vulnerable targets of witchcraft. In 1419, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to every English bishop, saying that the life of Henry V was being threatened by ‘the heathenish rituals of necromancers’, and ordered public prayers for the King’s protection. In 1429, several knights, gentlemen, and clerics were accused of making a wax image of Henry VI and melting it in order to cause his death, and in 1430 seven women were imprisoned in London on similar charges.

The allegations of witchcraft against the Woodvilles returned, this time directed at Elizabeth. When Edward died of an illness in 1483, their twelve-year-old son was declared King Edward V, while his uncle Richard was appointed Protector. However, within months Richard shut his two nephews in the Tower and took the throne to become Richard III.

In order to undercut their claim to the throne, Richard resurrected the allegations of witchcraft against Elizabeth’s family. Richard’s title to the throne, set out by Parliament in 1484, makes several defamatory claims against Elizabeth and her mother, including the use of sorcery and witchcraft to procure her marriage to King Edward. Yet no proof was ever advanced and Richard never brought Elizabeth to trial.

Elizabeth Woodville (c.1437-1492)


  • The White Queen: Who was she really?
  • Who was King Edward IV, the man she married?
  • The White Queen is on BBC One, Sundays at 21:00 GMT, or catch up later on BBC iPlayer

Witchcraft itself was not a crime on the statute book at this time. Witches – female of male – were not punished simply for being witches. When accusations were made against Elizabeth it was not so much against the practice of magic itself, rather what it had been commissioned for. It wasn’t until many years later that that witchcraft became a capital offence.

Although there is no conclusive proof that either Elizabeth or her mother really practised magic, they lived in a time when magic was seen as neither unusual nor exotic. It was just one way among many to solve a practical problem. They believed it was a way of opening channels between this world and the worlds of spirits, angels, and demons, whose power could then be used for human ends.

The practice of magic could be elaborate or simple – a sentence or two accompanied by gestures, so anyone could use it and most people did. Women would often use magic where brute force or political power was not really open to them.

The widespread belief in magic also allowed Warwick, Richard the Third and others to make accusations against their enemies on little or no evidence and to be believed.


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