"Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!"
That’s what witnesses close to the podium heard the gospel great shout midway through the speech. And it seemingly had a startling effect. With nary a pause, King pushed the notes from which he’d been reading off to the side. He no longer is seen looking down at the prepared text, and as he goes extemporaneous, King’s calm voice suddenly takes on a preacherly oratorical style. He is winging it. He is telling them about the dream.
And by “them,” we mean not just the tens of thousands on hand in D.C., but the tens of millions who would hear recorded snippets of this spontaneity over the next five decades.
It was “one of the world’s greatest gospel singers shouting out to one of the world’s greatest Baptist preachers,” speech writer Clarence Jones told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “She may have ignored the fact that there were almost 300,000 other people there, and she just shouted out to Martin, ‘Tell them about the dream.’ Anybody else who would yell at him, he probably would’ve ignored it. He didn’t ignore Mahalia Jackson. I said to somebody standing next to me, ‘These people don’t know it, but they’re about ready to go to church.’”