TODAY   |  August 28, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I have a dream’ speech turns 50

The civil rights leader’s most iconic speech is turning 50 today, his poetic words marking a turning point in U.S. history. TODAY’s Al Roker reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> martin luther king , jr .'s historic march on washington , al.

>> well, matt, martin luther king , jr .'s speech 50 years ago not only galvanized a nation but perhaps goes down in history as one of the most important speeches of the 20th century and marked a major turning point in the civil rights movement for this country.

>> i have a dream my poor 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 .

>> it was fine to tell you the truth, to be there and hear it.

>> it was an unbelievable day. when i look across that mall, i saw humanity.

>> with the lincoln memorial as a fitting backdrop, martin luther king , jr . preached his dream of racial equality , freedom, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

>> people were lined up along the reflecting pool, dipping their legs in the water because it was so hot and we just elbowed our way toward the steps of the lincoln memorial .

>> i heard him speak on many, many occasions. but on august 28th , 1963 , he gave it something extra.

>> my country tis of thee sweet land of liberty, of thee i sing.

>> reporter: people marched for jobs and freedom but these words resinate 50 years later.

>> i have a dream today.

>> reporter: the words i have a dream were not in the written speech. he added them as he spoke but now they're sered in our minds.

>> president kennedy invited us back down to the white house saying you did a good job. you did a good job and when he got to dr. martin luther king , jr . he said, and you had a dream .

>> i was five years old in 1963 but i remember when mom and dad came home how excited they were because it was a period of uplifting and hope.

>> reporter: hope and courage. this was the 60s. a turbulent time in america.

>> this is a very different country than it is now. segregation was the rule and the law in most of the south.

>> reporter: the march on washington was scheduled for midweek in hopes of keeping it small. people were told to stay home. government officials feared the worst.

>> they had troops surrounding the city just in case violence broke out.

>> we have waited for 345 years for our basic constitutional and god given rights.

>> reporter: the march drew a quarter of a million people and king's speech not only galvanized the nation, it was the turning point of the civil rights union.

>> it was so orderly and so peaceful. not one incident. the generations continue to derive hope and courage and inspiration from those words. i have a dream .

>> i have a dream today.

>> and when you think about it, matt, you talked earlier about the brevity of the speech, 17 minutes and change. the fact that 1579 words that really changed a nation.

>> i go back to the no violence element of this. these days we see when a college team wins a sports championship some sort of violence breaks out in a celebration. here were 250,000 people gathered fighting oppression and not one violent incident in that whole thing.

>> they had love in their hearts. you see the imagine with the babies. it was about the love in their hearts that day.

>> it's amazing to see how the words can resinate.

>> four arrests, that was it.

>> still brings a tear in your eye in so many ways. the vision has been realized. there's more work to be done but it's astounding