Mahalia Jackson Boldly Yelled At Dr. King And It Forever Changed History

Posted On : January 15, 2021
Mahalia Jackson and Martin Luther King, Jr.

ILOSM fam’ here’s an interesting Black history fact: We all know that Mahalia Jackson sang the spirituals at King’s March On Washington in 1963, but we may not have known that if it wasn’t for the late gospel icon, we would not have Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. Let us explain…

Mahalia and Dr. King were very good friends and King viewed her as one of his spiritual confidantes. He would also often phone her up when he was stressed or down and like a routine, Mahalia would instantly start to sing gospel hymns to her friend who had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Here’s the thing though, they were so tight, that Mahalia knew how to push his buttons and tell him what others would be afraid to. That familiarity of their friendship came in handy during King’s delivery of his infamous “I Have A Dream” speech, as 250,000+ people stood in the crowd cheering him on and many more watched live on TV.


MLK’s then-advisor/speech writer, Clarence B. Jones

It turns out that the “I have a dream” portion of Dr. King’s speech, which is what it’s best known for, was ALL free-styled by King, as a result of Mahalia- who was sitting just a few feet away from Dr.King- pushing him to say it. According to King’s then advisor and speechwriter, Clarence Jones, he and King had gone over the prepared speech he’d drafted for King, several times prior to the March On Washington. But another one of King’s advisors, had advised King to take out the ‘dream’ lines because it would seem too “cliche.'” King agreed and the night before the march, he had X’d them out of his speech.

Here’s where Mahalia comes in though. She had already heard King’s ‘I have a dream’ sections of his speech prior to the March on Washington and she knew that was what would not only stir up Dr. King, but he would in turn, stir up the spirit of the people to NOT give up.

Reportedly King had made a conscious decision to try to be more reserved during his speech, out of concern that if he came across too ‘preachy’ to such a vast audience, that they would get thrown off by the “preach” and miss the message. But good ol’ Mahalia Jackson didn’t let her friend do that and Jones said after he witnessed what she did next, he turned to the person standing next to him and said “These people out there, they don’t know it, but they’re ’bout ready to go to church.”…


Mahalia Jackson after encouragingly yelling to Martin Luther King Jr. during his “I Have A Dream” speech

As King was delivering his speech, Mahalia noticed that he was almost coming to a close, but hadn’t said the “dream” parts at all. So she did what any friend would do- she yelled at him, but she meant well though. She was sitting to the left of MLK when she looked at him (as seen in the above photo), then pulled from her New Orleans bred, baptist church roots and shouted “Tell ’em about the DREAM Martin! Tell ’em about THE DREAM!!!” That’s when Jones said Dr. King looked at Mahalia, pushed his written speech to side, grabbed the sides of the podium and morphed from calm, subdued political speaker, to his full fledge pastor mode as if he was preaching at a small Georgia church, instead of on live television!

Mahalia and the crowd cheered him on and the rest is history. She knew what to do to get her friend going and she knew Dr. King had the gift to empower the people. So what we witnessed for the iconic MLK “I Have A Dream speech” was the work of a true icon getting a small push from a fellow icon, without anyone really even noticing. AMAZING!