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‘I have a dream’ ... 50 years later

LADD – It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech, which will forever go down in history.

The “I Have a Dream” speech is said to be a defining moment in the American Civil Rights Movement. King delivered the heartfelt speech on Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It has been documented that more than 250,000 civil rights supporters from all over the country crowded together to hear King speak.

Among the supporters was Jean Conway of Ladd. At the time, the 37-year-old was on her way home from teaching for the Air Force in Germany and was staying in Arlington, Va., with her twin sister and brother-in-law, waiting for her vehicle to be shipped.

Conway admits, at the time, she was only familiar with small bits about the ongoing civil rights movement. Her sister, however, was an avid reader of the Washington Post and followed the issue with great intensity.

Growing up in Ladd, Conway said she and her sister knew it was unacceptable to be prejudiced.

“I don’t remember if things were said directly; we just knew it wasn’t right,” she said.

Conway said it was her sister’s idea to go to the speech which King was said to be delivering at the Lincoln Memorial.

“My brother-in-law said, ‘Well you’re not going alone,’” she laughed. “He took the day off because we weren’t sure what was going to happen.”

Conway remembers the weather being hot and sunny as they crowded near the right side of the reflecting pool. She remembers large crowds of people being bused into the square.

“The crowds were heavy, and you couldn’t see an awful lot, but you could hear beautifully,” she said.

As King delivered, Conway remembers the feeling of the crowd to be peaceful and positive; some were emotional.

“I think they were expecting to have trouble, but they didn’t,” she said. “There were no problems. People were enthusiastic about the whole idea of the march and the fact that the civil rights movement had taken off.”

Standing in the crowd, listening to King’s words, Conway could feel the day would become a part of history.

“The most memorable part of the speech was when he said, ‘I have a dream.’ He reverberated it over everything,” she said. “I’m sure that part would be the thing everybody there would still remember today.”

Following the speech, Conway said people walked away feeling empowered and enthused.

“You went away feeling exhilarated, because of the crowd, because of the speech, because everything was so peaceful,” she said. “Even after 50 years, I still think about just how fantastic it was.”

Since then, the “I Have a Dream” speech has been ranked the top American speech of the 20th century by a 1999 poll of public address scholars.

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