‘Tell Them Your Dream,’ Mahalia Jackson Instructs MLK

Carolyn’s Online Magazine




On January 18, 2016, my husband Monte and I attended the Annual NAACP Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Program held at the Greater Parkview Church in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

(l-r) Adrienne Russell, religious affairs chair person; Bishop Carl Jones, and Minister Ruth Tolbert

(l-r) Adrienne Russell, religious affairs chair person; Bishop Carl Jones, and
Minister Ruth Tolbert

After returning home I couldn’t find my notes they’d stayed in a ‘safe place’ for 8 days.

I’m excerpting just one thought spoken that night by someone whose name I didn’t record. I surfed the Internet to expand on that thought and wrote the following.


An advisor told King not to use the phrase I Have a Dream in the speech he was preparing to present at the August 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. During the speech Mahalia Jackson yelled at him Tell them about the dream! King complied.


In the days preceding to King’s presentation for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom he prepared a speech with the help of his advisors. However, he was torn between using two metaphors:

  • a ‘bad check:’ the failure of America to deliver on her promises of freedom to her black citizens
  • his dream for a nation undivided by racial tensions.

Due to the nature of the march, time constraints, and the fact that he’d used the dream metaphor in speeches throughout the previous year, the bad check metaphor won out. The original speech didn’t mention the word ‘dream.’

During the speech Clarence Jones, one of the advisors, listened as King improvised somewhat on the prepared words. King changed a clunky section into a simple directive: go back to Mississippi; go back to Louisiana; go back to…knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

At that moment persons on the dais—Jones, the organist Yolanda Clarke, and others—heard Mahalia Jackson, program vocalist, yell out Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!Mahalia_Jackson_1962,_van_Vechten,_LC-USZ62-91314

At her second prompting he briefly glanced at Jackson, turned back to the prepared text, and slid it to the left side of the lectern, marking the point of his transformation from lecturer to preacher—from looking down and speaking from notes to using an extemporaneous, oratorical style.


“It was if some cosmic transcendental force came down and occupied his body,” Jones explained. “It was the same body, the same voice, but the voice had something I had never heard before.”

Were it not for Jackson being the wind beneath King’s wings the legacy of King’s I Have a Dream speech might never have been.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Back to January 18th, a day to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., and his legacy with a closing word: injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

SPECIAL NOTE: Many thanks to Ray Francis who managed to correct my camera settings  at the end of the program.

ADDITIONAL READING: Gaither & the Friendship 9: Convictions Expunged


 Annual NAACP Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Program Pictures

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160118 IMG_6540EE

160118 IMG_6544E

160118 IMG_6548E


Participants in the program included:

  • Min. Ruth Tolbert, branch secretary
  •  Rev. Cassandra Robinson, Pearly Gates International Ministries, Jeannette, Pa.
  • Bishop Carl E. Jones, Sr., branch president
  • Sis. Adrienne Russell, Religious Affairs Chairperson
  • Rabbi Sara Perman Central Westmoreland County Unity Coalition
  • Sis. Carlotta Paige, Central Westmoreland County Unity Coalition
  • Bro. Bill Jackson, First Antioch Baptist Church, Greensburg
  • Bro. Ron Landers, Living Word Congregational Church, Jeannette
  • Bro. Ray Francis, Greater Parkview Church, Greensburg
  • Sis. Twyla Glasgow, Bethel A.M.E. Church, Tarentum
  • God’s Anointed Community Choir
  • Licentiate Frank Brown, Bethel A.M.E. Church, Greensburg
  • Dr. Robin Sims, GPC/NAACP



About carolyncholland

In several if my nine lives I have been a medical lab technician and a human service worker specializing in child day care, adoptions and family abuse. Currently I am a photo/journalist/writer working on a novel and a short story. My general writings can be viewed at www.carolyncholland.wordpress.com. My novel site is www.intertwinedlove.wordpress.com.
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3 Responses to ‘Tell Them Your Dream,’ Mahalia Jackson Instructs MLK

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Carolyn. I had never heard it before and I also thought it well worth sharing – inspirational. Thanks also to all who arranged and participated in this special event.


  2. Gwen H. says:

    Thank you for sharing. I had no idea.


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