Louisville man's desire instrumental in immortalizing historical site of famous speech


by Mike Colombo


Posted on August 28, 2010 at 10:52 PM

Updated Saturday, Aug 28 at 11:36 PM

(WHAS11)  Forty-seven years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  For almost four decades, there was nothing at the memorial to commemorate Dr. King’s speech and place in American history; one Louisville man helped change that.

Centered 18 steps from the top of the marble chamber at the Lincoln Memorial lies a place in American history you’d probably miss, if you weren’t looking for it.  With all the monuments and statues throughout the country, this small historical marker is humbly located at the very place one of America’s most influential speakers told us about his dream.

An inspiring dream to many, that one Louisville man helped immortalize.  In a time where it seemed racial equality could only happen in a dream, Dr. King helped change that way of thinking.

For members of Louisville’s Green Street Baptist Church, Dr. King’s famous speech and visit to their place of worship four years after speaking those words energized them to follow their own dreams.

“Dr. Martin Luther King inspired me to do with what I had.  Therefore, I did go to college and I did graduate,” said Rochelle Griffin.

“It reached everyone, everywhere.  It wasn’t just about those people he was making the speech to in Washington, he was talking to everyone in the nation,” said Devoe Hale.

There’s a broad personal connection to the “I Have a Dream” speech; one Louisville lawyer, Tom Williams, hoped would come full circle during a 1997 trip to the Lincoln Memorial.  My wife and I visited DC and she had never been to DC.  I wanted to show her where King gave his dream speech, because I was sure there was something there.  When we got there, there was nothing there,” said Williams.

The fact there was no historical marker bothered Williams so much he wrote Representative Anne Northrup requesting a marker be placed where Dr. King made that famous speech.  “It seemed like an oversight.  Like your favorite book has a typo and you want to correct it,” added Williams.

With Northrup’s help, Williams’ wish for a historical marker was granted.  He and his family were invited for its unveiling; also attended by Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King.  “It was just an amazing experience.  It was clear to me that Mrs. King and John Lewis, who was the only person living who actually spoke at the march, were enjoying taking some time to look back and see how far they had come,” added Williams.

So now, in a place Dr. King himself called hallowed ground lies a reminder of a place, time and those revolutionary words.

While Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is certainly the most famous from that day at the Lincoln Memorial, King was just one of several other influential speakers; including Kentucky native Whitney Young.