Clarence Jones, who helped the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. write the "I Have A Dream Speech," told a Television Critics Association panel in 2013 how the most famous part of the speech came spontaneously. It was Aug. 28, 1963: King was speaking to hundreds of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial, and millions watching on TV, when suddenly singer Mahalia Jackson called out.
Very few people know — most people do not know — that the speech that he gave was not the speech that he had intended to give. ... As he was reading from the text of his prepared remarks, there came a point when Mahalia Jackson, who was sitting on the platform, said, "Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream."
When Mahalia shouted to him, I was standing about 50 feet behind him... and I saw it happening in real time. He just took the text of his speech and moved it to the left side of the lectern. ... And I said to somebody standing next to me: "These people don't know it, but they're about to go to church."
See photos of Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
How MLK ad-libbed the 'I Have a Dream Speech'
C8MG9A Martin Luther King, Jr.. Image shot 1963. Exact date unknown.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X
MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 1956: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. relaxes at home in May 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 13: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks with people after delivering a sermon on May 13, 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 1956: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. relaxes at home with his family in May 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968) sits on a couch and speaks on the telephone after encountering a white mob protesting against the Freedom Riders in Montgomery, Alabama, May 26, 1961. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
Martin Luther King Jr, at a press conference after meeting with President Johnson at the White House to discuss civil rights, Washington DC, December 3, 1961. (Photo by Warren K. Leffler/Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
Civil Rights leaders Fred Shuttlesworth (left), Martin Luther King Jr (center), and Ralph Abernathy (right) attend a funeral for victims of the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963. The September 15, 1963 bombing killed four young African-American girls. (Photo by Declan Haun/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)
President Lyndon B Johnson (1908 - 1973) discusses the Voting Rights Act with civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968). The act, part of President Johnson's 'Great Society' program trebled the number of black voters in the south, who had previously been hindered by racially inspired laws, 1965. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY- MARCH 25: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seen close from the rear, speaking in front of 25,000 civil rights marchers, at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery march in front of Alabama state capital building on March 25, 1965. In Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Stephen Somerstein/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MARCH 25: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking before crowd of 25,000 Selma To Montgomery, Alabama civil rights marchers, in front of Montgomery, Alabama state capital building. On March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images)
African-American man holding Martin Luther King Jr flag - Washington, DC, USA
The Martin Luther King Jr., memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The Rev Al Sharpton speaking at a Dr, Martin Luther King jr Day rally.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meeting with US President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office of the White House December 3, 1963 in Washington, DC.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meeting with US President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Cabinet Room of the White House March 18, 1966 in Washington, DC.
Funeral of reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
Girl Scouts in Martin Luther King Jr Day Celebration
Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Washington DC dc12 national park monument near National Mall
Controversial paraphrased quote on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Martin Luther King, Jr. with wife Coretta Scott King
MLK with Labor Unions
Martin Luther King, Jr. during the March on Washington
Martin Luther King Jr. at the 'Pacem in Terris' Peace Conference
Martin Luther King, Jr. arriving at London Airport
Tourists visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., USA
Martin Luther King, Jr., T-Shirt commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., USA
Martin Luther King Jr Day Rally
India Martin Luther King postage stamp, cancelled
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (right), President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Mathew Ahmann (center), Executive Director of the National Catholic Conference for Interrracial Justice during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom August 28, 1963 in Washington, DC.
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
I said that because I could see his body language change from the rear. Where he had been reading, like giving a lecture, but then going into his Baptist preacher mode.
Had there been anyone else — anyone else — who had shouted anything to him, I think he would have been a little taken aback. I'm not so sure he would have departed from the text of his speech. But Mahalia Jackson was his favorite gospel singer. When Mahalia said that it was almost like a mandate to respond.