Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech: A Pop Culture History

From Common to Kendrick Lamar to Forrest Gump, MTV News celebrates the civil rights landmark's 50th anniversary.

It was an unforgettable speech — a moment when those gathered could feel, and hear, the tide of history turning.

On Wednesday (August 28), thousands once again descended on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark “I Have a Dream” speech. Delivered on August 28, 1963 during the “March On Washington,” the 17-minute speech encapsulated the civil rights icon’s message of freedom, equality and liberty for all Americans, regardless of race.

“I have a dream that one day 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,’ ” King said on that day.

“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

Most amazingly, King essentially freestyled toward the end of the speech after gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin,” tossing his notes and coming up with the iconic phrasing on the spot.

MLK’s March On Washington Turns 50: Here Are 4 Ways You Can Take Action.

“I Have a Dream” also became a part of pop culture history, serving as muse for a number of songs and movie scenes, as well as a type of shorthand for drive and a dedicated vision. On the anniversary of the speech, MTV News looks at some of the art inspired by Dr. King’s words.

Kendrick Lamar Has A Dream
The Compton MC opens the 2012 good kid, m.A.A.d City track “Backseat Freestyle” with the lyrics, “Martin had a dream/Kendrick have a dream,” before dipping into more traditional topics like women, cars, money and respect.

Dead Prez Want Revenge
Political rap crew Dead Prez had a dream, too. In fact, the duo released a track called “I Have a Dream, Too” on their 2004 album RBG: Revolutionary But Gangsta. The song, with an intro about the shooting of a black man by police, is an N.W.A.-style fantasy about taking violent revenge on law enforcement.

Michael Jackson Makes HIStory
As part of his life-long message of peace and togetherness, the late King of Pop sampled bits of “Dream” in his 1995 song “HIStory.” The magisterial pop tune, which opens with a royal horn flourish and features bits of speeches about Hank Aaron, Robert Kennedy and snippets of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Midway through, it drops in the refrain of King’s speech as well as another part that uses the word “history” twice to refer to the landmark nature of the March on Washington.

Common Pieces Dream Together
Rapper Common went even further on his 2006 song form the “Freedom Writers” soundtrack, using the phrase “I Have a Dream” as the refrain of his will.i.am-produced single. “No apology, I walk with a boulder on my shoulder/It’s a cold war, I’m a colder soldier,” raps Common. “Hold the same fight that made Martin Luther the King/ I ain’t usin’ it for the right thing … I put together pieces of a Dream/ I still have one.” The chorus of the song weaves bits of will singing with King’s speech in the refrain, “I got a dream, (that one day) we’re gonna work it out.”

U2 Doubles Down
In a career packed with important, ambitious songs, U2 have recorded not one, but two anthems in honor of Dr. King. In 1984 came “Pride (In the Name of Love),” a soaring tune that takes you to the very moment of King’s assassination. “Early morning, April 4/ Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/ Free at last, they took your life/ They could not take your pride,” Bono sings.

On the same album, The Unforgettable Fire, the Irish rockers drive their message home once again with the final song, “MLK.” The meditative ballad includes the lyrics, “Sleep, sleep tonight/And may your dreams, be realized.” The song later turned up in the novel “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” on a playlist by one of the characters.

Public Enemy Throws Down
In 1991, Public Enemy leader Chuck D wrote “By the Time I Get to Arizona” as a direct response to the decision by some officials in Arizona to reject the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday celebration. “I’m countin’ down to the day deservin’/ Fitting for a king/ I’m waiting for the time when I can/ Get to Arizona,” raps D on the song.

Dream, Forrest, Dream
In a production featurette included on the DVD release of the 1994 Tom Hanks movie “Forrest Gump,” director Robert Zemeckis talks about a special effects scene he left out of the original in which Forrest saves King from an attack by vicious police dogs by distracting them. King also made an appearance, via archival footage, in the 1992 Spike Lee film “Malcolm X,” about the more militant Nation of Islam leader, who, like King, was assassinated.

The Butler Playing MLK?
Nelsan Ellis played Martin Luther King Jr. in the recent Lee Daniels film, “The Butler.” And reportedly, the butler himself, Forest Whitaker, is in talks to play the civil rights great in a MLK biopic called “Memphis.”

Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.