This week marks 50 years since the nation first heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of that speech given at the March on Washington. King was a son of Georgia, and is considered an American hero. But his life and his words inspire people around the world.
Indeed, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site in downtown Atlanta, tourists are visiting from around the world and around the country.
Some were alive during the March on Washington, while others learned about it and the speech King gave that day later.
The speech is playing over loudspeakers at the site. And tourists from all over the world know these four words: I have a dream. One man even translates it in French.
“Je en reve. I have a dream. Je en reve,” says Achille Madzwa of the Democratic Republic of Congo, chuckling.
Godwin Egbebe explains one novel use for those words in his native Nigeria.
“Some of us use it as our ring tone – phone ring tone,” he says, standing on the corner of Auburn Avenue near King’s birth home. “When you call someone, it hums back to the person ‘I have a dream.’ ”
Egbebe is visiting the historic site with his wife Funke and their four children. They’re learning about the Civil Rights movement back at their school in Lagos. And Egbebe wanted them to see King’s home and the historic site to help them understand his message.
“When you have the will, you’ll be able to achieve what you want to achieve,” he said. “So I want them to see this is not fiction. This is real. That you can achieve whatever you want to achieve provided you are focused – just like Martin Luther King was focused.”
Others like Chris Warchol-Eloy remember watching the march on television in her Chicago home. She was 10 at the time.
“Black and white television, watching as millions of people descended, and listening to Martin Luther King’s speech.”
As for where she was when she saw it, that’s a no-brainer, she says.
“In the living room,” she says with a laugh. “Only had one television in those days.”
She says as a child watching the event, she couldn’t understand why Blacks had to march to convince others to treat them as equals.
As she reminisces, Warchol-Eloy stands near a statue of Indian peace activist Mahatma Gandhi. It’s one of the few statues at the historic site. And it hints at the Civil Rights movement’s global roots.
King based his philosophy on Gandhi’s fight for India’s independence from the British in the 1940s.
Gandhi also influenced the anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. And all three movements have at their core a common idea: nonviolence.
Civil Rights leader and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young was part of King’s inner circle. In an interview at GPB, he explained the philosophy of nonviolence:
“You can’t overcome violence with greater violence,” he said. “You can only overcome hatred with love and understanding.”
Back at the historic site, the universality of those ideas aren’t lost on Celia Prevost. She lives in a small town in northern France, and is visiting the park with her family. She says King and the Civil Rights movement changed the world – for everyone.
“You don’t have to be black to defend his ideas, too,” she said. “It’s for humans. He was important for all humankind.”
There’s a banner at the historic site commemorating the march on Washington’s 50th anniversary. For people in America and around the world, the words will continue to resonate long after the anniversary passes.