60 years on from Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, apologist Adam Coleman reflects on his grandfather’s first-hand experience of the March on Washington
Monday 28th August marks 60 years since the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Adam Coleman’s grandfather was personally invited to attend the event by Dr King. Adam spoke about his grandfather’s experience with Ruth Jackson. Below is an adaptation of their conversation.
One of the things my grandfather loves to talk about is his experience that day in 1963. He was at the March on Washington. It was common for Dr King to contact religious leaders and lay leaders in churches wherever there was going to be some sort of demonstration to collaborate with them to pull off an event. And my grandfather actually received a letter from Dr King along those lines, because he was the head of the Usher board at the time. So, they enlisted him to be part of that organising group. My grandfather was very proud of that, he was always excited about it.
My grandfather talked about that day, how everybody was of one mind and focus. To get that many people in one place without there being any sort of shenanigans is very hard to do. He talked about how they were well prepared. Before getting out there, there was a lot of talk about not bringing violence with you in your heart and not doing anything that would disrupt or undermine the integrity of what was going on that day. He would always say: “When we got there, we marched on the road. And as soon as it was over, everybody went straight out. Nobody stayed around in Washington, we got out of there immediately, because we didn’t want to do anything to disrespect Dr King.”
My grandfather is so proud of what happened that day. Just being there in that moment, listening to the speeches and seeing not only African Americans, but people of various different ethnicities, of goodwill, there together. Not only just for an event, but really celebrating the freedom they believed was to come. It was very dear to him.
Growing up, I can remember hearing that story over and over again. And it just really made black history close, it wasn’t something that was way off in the distance back in the day, but it was right there in front of me. And so I always carried that with me.
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The ‘I have a dream’ speech really is like a culminating echo of all the freedom fighting voices of the African American tradition. When you hear Dr King talk about that cheque that has come back “insufficient funds” and they’ve come to cash that cheque, you can hear Frederick Douglass’ ‘What to the slave is the fourth of July?’. You can hear Harriet Tubman in there, you can hear the homiletic tradition, in terms of the repetition of phrases, you hear all of that in this one speech.
I feel like it’s always been a call back to the best of what the African American tradition has had to offer. I remember when I was in college – my undergrad was in criminal justice and I did a master’s in social work – I always wanted to impact the community. I always wanted to be that person who in my generation did something to move that call forward. And echoing in the background of my own efforts has always been that ‘I have a dream’ speech. I think it’s so powerful. I listen to it every other month, just as kind of a reminder of what it is this tradition has to offer.
Adam Coleman leads a busy life as a husband, father of five children, social worker, published author and public speaker. Educationally, Adam has a background in the mental health field with specialisation in public advocacy. Upon graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Master’s in social work, Adam began a career of youth/family therapy, service to our nation’s veterans and community organisation. As a Christian apologist, Adam is passionate about equipping Christians with evidences for the faith and engaging the culture. Currently, Adam is primarily focused on using his Tru-ID Apologetics Youtube channel, Tru-ID Podcast, writings, social media engagement and public speaking to promote the gospel of Christ while educating believers on how to be effective defenders of the faith. https://www.truidapologetics.com/
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