Anticipating Obama With A Debate Team

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama will be giving his big speech on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous I Have a Dream speech, meaning the stakes are extremely high. We visit with a local speech and debate team in Denver to see what they are looking for.

Before King's 'Dream' Day, City Feared Nightmare

With the U.S. Capitol dome in the background, marchers head toward the Lincoln Memorial. i i

With the U.S. Capitol dome in the background, marchers head toward the Lincoln Memorial. National Archives/Getty Images hide caption

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With the U.S. Capitol dome in the background, marchers head toward the Lincoln Memorial.

With the U.S. Capitol dome in the background, marchers head toward the Lincoln Memorial.

National Archives/Getty Images
A sea of people filled the National Mall for the March on Washington. i i

A sea of people filled the National Mall for the March on Washington. National Archives/Getty Images hide caption

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A sea of people filled the National Mall for the March on Washington.

A sea of people filled the National Mall for the March on Washington.

National Archives/Getty Images
A man in a hat with a sign marking the March on Washington. i i

In the end, those who were wary of the march had little to fear from a crowd that had the atmosphere of "a church social." National Archives/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption National Archives/Getty Images
A man in a hat with a sign marking the March on Washington.

In the end, those who were wary of the march had little to fear from a crowd that had the atmosphere of "a church social."

National Archives/Getty Images
President Kennedy meets with civil rights leaders. i i

President Kennedy met with civil rights leaders at the White House on Aug. 28, 1963. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., is in the center of the photo. National Archives/Getty Images hide caption

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President Kennedy meets with civil rights leaders.

President Kennedy met with civil rights leaders at the White House on Aug. 28, 1963. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., is in the center of the photo.

National Archives/Getty Images

Many white residents of Washington, D.C., didn't expect the day of Aug. 28, 1963, to shine as a beacon in the history of U.S. civil rights.

"They expected riot and mayhem," historian Taylor Branch, author of several books about the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., told Steve Inskeep.

That day, the sale of alcohol was suspended; plasma was stockpiled at hospitals; and baseball games were cancelled, so the fans wouldn't be caught up in the turmoil of a riot that officials believed was sure to come along with a huge group of black Americans.

"Life magazine said the capital had the greatest case of preinvasion jitters since the first Battle of Bull Run," Branch said.

Roger Wilkins, a civil rights activist and author who was working for the federal government in 1963, said the reality of the day was starkly different from the early fears.

"It was astonishing," said Wilkins, who went down to the Lincoln Memorial early that morning.

"It was like a church social. People were happy; people were greeting each other; parts of families from different parts of the country were re-forming, and almost having little family reunions," Wilkins said.

And the day's speech that is now the best remembered — King's "I Have a Dream" address — was not expected to be the best of the event.

"Many newspapers, including The Washington Post, didn't even mention his speech in their coverage the next day," Branch said.

But it wasn't long before the media singled out King's speech as the day's signature moment.

The moment that helped to reshape American history came about halfway through King's prepared text, when the Southern preacher looked away from his notes.

"You can see exactly where it broke off," Branch said.

Instead of a line about the "International Association for the Advancement of Creative Dissatisfaction," King launched into a series of riffs, Branch said. Among them were phrases like "let freedom ring," "with this faith" — and "I have a dream."

Singer Mahalia Jackson has been credited with prompting King's departure from the script often enough that it's likely to have happened, Branch said. As King spoke, Jackson is reported to have said, "Tell them about the dream, Martin."

"If Mahalia, with that voice, told you to do something, you did it," Wilkins said.

And the mood later that day, as he left the National Mall?

"Euphoric," Wilkins said.

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