By Gwen McKinney
More than any participant at the 1963 March On Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered for electrifying the audience, becoming one of the greatest moral voices of all times.
Perhaps the course of history might be different, had he not heeded the urgings of his friend and spiritual muse Mahalia Jackson. Several times, from a nearby seat on the dais, Jackson insisted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” Message received, King pushed his prepared remarks aside, sealing his oratory splendor with “I Have A Dream.”
Gospel great Jackson was among the handful of legendary luminaries holding court on the podium. She sang two spirituals “How I Got Over” and “I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned.”
More than celebrities, these women were stalwarts of the civil rights movement and reliable benefactors of the march and other civil rights campaigns. Their ranks included international artist Josephine Baker, the only woman listed as an official speaker, who delivered the longest speech of any woman – slightly more than two minutes. Ruby Dee was joined by her husband Ossie Davis as emcee. And Lena Horne, defiant and succinct, from a place on the main stage commandeered the microphone momentarily, yelling to the multitudes a one-word battle cry – “Freedom!”