Modesto students feel power of King’s dream on 50th anniversary

naustin@modbee.comAugust 28, 2013 

    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin

— A half-century after they reverberated across a Washington mall packed with protesters, the passionate words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. still have the power to bring tears.

At Modesto High School, the original "I Have a Dream" speech was played in its entirety at both lunch periods Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of King's iconic address.

"It's inspirational. It literally brought me to tears. My mom was born that year," said junior Jennifer Cordova. Jennifer said she first heard the King recording as a third-grader at Franklin Elementary — and cried then, too.

"It's very moving," she said.

Isabel Martinez, also a junior, never had heard King's voice before. "I'd seen the speech name. I knew he said it — OK, it happened," she said.

But hearing his passionate delivery changed its impact.

"It was very strong, very emotional. It brought me back to how terrible it was back then. I couldn't help but just stop and listen," Isabel said.

The group of about 150 students that gathered by the H Street entrance stood uncharacteristically silent through the full speech. After the speech, history teacher Patrick Durr urged the diverse campus to join hands through the song "We Shall Overcome," an anthem of the civil rights movement.

Senior Bogar Lopez said he hoped the moment would lead to "more brothership, maybe less fights" on campus.

Delivered to more than 250,000 supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963, the speech proved a defining moment for the movement and an enduring symbol of oratory excellence.

Its defining phrase, however, was an improvised return to one of King's key themes. Near the end of his prepared speech, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted, "Tell them about the dream, Martin."

King turned from his notes and spoke off the cuff, punctuating his points with "I have a dream."

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339, on Twitter @NanAustin, www.modbee. com/education.

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