The scene: a platform at the base of the steps to the Lincoln Memorial on the northernmost end of the National Mall.
The speaker: African-American Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., America’s most prominent civil rights leader at the time and for generations to come.
A quarter of a million people gathered in D.C. shortly after noon to hear Dr. King. The event was described in 2001 by historians as the most eloquent and consequential American speech of the 20th century.
Noted African-American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, among the quarter of a million Americans on the Mall that historic day, shouted to Reverend King from the crowd: “Tell them about your dream, Martin.”
Many accounts say that Dr. King abruptly abandoned his prepared text to declare:
“This nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” He continues with, “I HAVE A DREAM that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I HAVE A DREAM TODAY”
(Imagine for a moment, on the day of January 20, 2009, when that dream became reality as Barak Obama was inaugurated for the first of two terms as U.S. President).
Way back in D.C. the day of the 1963 landmark address by Dr. King, I was a writer-trainee and producer of the Voice of America program, Report to Africa.
Midafternoon, I ventured out to the Mall close to the VOA headquarters building in southwest D.C. Alas, there were only scant views of the distant Lincoln Memorial 20 blocks away.
But I knew I had to get back to work, and quickly. The 5 p.m. updated 1 p.m. Report to Africa had to be re-created from scratch, reflecting Dr. King’s words to an audience focused on anti-discrimination, especially in America.
Using on-scene accounts from the Lincoln Memorial and Dr. King’s historic address, I just barely made it into broadcast Studio 4 to get the program on the air with recorded excerpts of his remarks and early reaction.
It had to make a difference to the most important Voice audience of the mid-20th century, hungry for news about progress in reducing racial discrimination globally, including in our own country.
As we got off the air at 5:30 p.m., the studio technician commented: “Alan, that was a terrific, timely program to a key audience. Congratulations!”
The broadcast of the King’s remarks, as well as the Cuban missile crisis, were highlights of my first two years in a 36-year career at Voice of America. These landmark events made me a lifetime supporter of VOA which in 2021 reaches nearly 300 million listeners, TV viewers, and online users each and every week.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More