Detroit remembers 50 years after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech

DETROIT – In the summer of 1963 while working out of an office at Solidarity House, the national headquarters of the United Auto Workers Union, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. drafted his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

However, on June 23, two months before delivering his speech in Washington, Dr. King gave a trial run of that speech in Detroit to over 100,000 people who participated in what is known as “The Walk to Freedom.”

The fiftieth anniversary of that “walk” will be commemorated on June 22 as tens of thousands again prepare to march down Woodward Ave, Detroit’s main thoroughfare.

At a press conference yesterday at Solidarity House announcing the march, the Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP, said he is sometimes asked, “Why march?”

“Quite simply many things need to change. We need a better Detroit, better Michigan, better jobs, and better justice, to turn the dream of 1963 into the reality of 2013.”

He emphasized that while important victories have been won there is enough pain in the city and the state for anyone who has a concern to show up. He cited the passage of right-to-work (for less) and the imposition of emergency managers forcing over one-half of the state’s African American population to live under “one man rule” as two issues causing significant hurt in the state.

It will also be a national march. Leaders from the NAACP’s national president, Ben Jealous, to the civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, will be present.

On Friday, the day before the march, national and local experts will gather to discuss strategies and solutions to many of the evils that plague our communities including racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, jobs, and homophobia.

As in 1963, labor will play a special role. Miguel Foster, the UAW’s director of civil rights, said the union is, as it was in 1963, in the thick of organizing for the coming march. Walter Reuther, president of the UAW in 1963, walked hand in hand with Dr. King in the historic March on Washington.

Several who marched in 1963 spoke at the press conference here yesterday.

Gloria Mills, who was 14 back then, said it was “such a good feeling to know we were all taking an active part in our pursuit of freedom.” It was the first time she had heard the voice of Dr King. “It was the most awesome thing I had ever heard. I can still hear his voice, 50 years later.”

Rudy Simons, who was 34, said it is still “so important to march. Dr King talked about three social ills, militarism, materialism, racism, and they ain’t disappearing.”

When asked how many people were expected to participate, Anthony of the NAACP, said, “I want everybody” and he urged all faiths, races, genders and sexual orientations to come with their concerns.

He noted 250,000 participated in the thirtieth anniversary march in 1993, but said apathy is a problem with some. While people were thrilled with the election of the first African American as president, “many of the things that would benefit us, he cannot implement. It has caused a breaking down of the spirit.”

“One of the reasons we are doing this is to get people involved.”

For more information on the march go to

Photo: Marchers who walked in 1963, standing in front, join 2013 march organizers at Solidarity House. John Rummel/PW



John Rummel
John Rummel

Activist John Rummel covers events in Michigan. It's not politics-only for John; he loves sports, the outdoors and a cold beer or two!