Fifty Years On, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Speech Lives on - in Jerusalem Too

American diplomatic missions around the world will mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s iconic 'I have a dream’ speech, including an event at Jerusaelm’s American Center.

Alona Ferber
Alona Ferber
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Alona Ferber
Alona Ferber

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. never visited Israel, but on the 50th anniversary of his iconic “I have a dream” speech in Washington D.C., he will be here in spirit as the American Center in Jerusalem marks the anniversary, along with U.S. embassies around the world.

Coming after weeks of heavy violence in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon - two years into the outbreak of the popular Arab Spring uprisings which transformed the region - Dr. King’s message has great resonance, a U.S. embassy spokesperson said.

“In his landmark 1963 speech, Dr. King articulated a vision for a future in which all people would be treated with respect and dignity,” the spokesperson said. “There is no more important message for today’s Middle East.”

As part of the effort to globally commemorate the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, when 250,000 Americans marched for racial equality and justice, the American Center will host a performance of jazz group the Lab Ensemble, graduates of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, interwoven with footage of Dr. King’s speech. “Music was a vital part of this event,” the spokesperson explained. Along with compositions written especially for the evening, the Lab Ensemble will play music by stars who performed that day, including Joan Baez and Odetta.

The event is “open to the public and anyone who is interested in celebrating the historic events of 50 years ago is welcome to attend,” the spokesperson said.

The U.S. State Department has lined up a number of other initiatives to mark the occasion in the United States and around the world. On Monday, a “global viewing party” of Dr. King’s speech, which the U.S. embassy predicted dozens of diplomatic missions to take part in, took place at 1 P.M. Jerusalem time. There is also a YouTube video made especially for the 50th anniversary of the speech, interspersed with clips of people from various countries telling the viewers their own dreams.

Later this year, in the first half of October, the State Department is organizing a webchat with the author of a three-volume biography of Martin Luther King Jr, Taylor Branch. The date has yet to be confirmed.

As peace talks kick off again with American mediation and much skepticism from the Israeli and Palestinian publics, Dr. King’s message is also relevant, the spokesperson said.

“The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is echoed in the call to action that President Obama gave to Israeli and Palestinian youth in his speech in March where he stated that, ‘Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.’”

In this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. makes his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington. Credit: AP

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