August 28th 1963: March on Washington
On this day in 1963, 50 years ago today, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place. The march was a key moment of the Civil Rights Movement and a triumph for the nonviolence philosophy which underpinned the movement. The March is best remembered for Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Other speakers included chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee John Lewis and veteran civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph. When politicians in Washington heard about the march many, including President John F. Kennedy, feared that there would be violence and rioting. The peaceful gathering of over 250,000 supporters of civil rights, with many whites in attendance as well as African-Americans, spurred America into action. In 1964 Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act and in 1965 the Voting Rights Act.
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’…
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
50 years ago today
April 3rd 1968: King’s last speech
On this day in 1968 the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. made his last speech. The speech is now referred to as the ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ speech, and was given at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee supporting the Memphis Sanitation Strike. King was assassinated the next day at his Memphis hotel.
"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."
- From King’s speech the day before his assassination
November 19th 1863: Gettysburg Address
On this day in 1863 during the American Civil War the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, delivered his famous Gettysburg Address. He made the speech at the dedication ceremony for the military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, site of the major battle between the Union and Confederacy that July. The speech is one of the most famous in American history, despite being only around two minutes long. In this brief time, Lincoln discussed the egalitarian ideas of the Declaration of Independence, praised the efforts of Union soldiers and extolled the virtues of American democracy.
"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
- Opening lines of the speech
June 26th 1963: JFK’s Berlin speech
On this day in 1963 during the Cold War, US President John F. Kennedy addressed hundreds of thousands of people in West Berlin. He expressed US support of West Berlin following the building of the Berlin Wall by the Soviet-controlled East Germany. His appearance was greatly welcomed and gave the people of West Berlin a morale boost. Kennedy’s powerful rhetoric and delivery led many to call it one of his best speeches.
"All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner!’”
13th May 1940: Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech
On this day in 1940 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made his famous speech in the House of Commons. The speech was his first to the Commons since becoming Prime Minister on 10th May. He gave the speech during the Battle of France of the Second World War and it provided a great morale boost in the United Kingdom.
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.
You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terror - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival”
March 5th 1946: Churchill makes his ‘Iron Curtain’ speech
On this day in 1946, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech at Westminster College, Missouri. Churchill had previously used the term, but this was the most public use of it. In the ‘Sinews of Peace’ address, Churchill used the term ‘iron curtain’ to reference a Soviet dominated Eastern Europe. At the time, the West still saw the Soviet Union as an ally after the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War Two, but Churchill’s speech heralded the onset of the Cold War tensions between the capitalist West and communist Russia. As the Cold War took hold, the phrase became popular as a reference to repressive Communist domination of Europe which hid Soviet actions and set a clear divide in Europe.
"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent"
April 20th 1968: ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech
On this day in 1968, British politician Enoch Powell made his controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech at a Conservative Association meeting in Birmingham. Powell was the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West. The speech was vehemently anti-immigration with its ideas that immigrants were ‘ruining’ Britain and many refused to integrate, thus fostering racial and religious tensions and leading to violence. The speech was very controversial, with some supporting his comments as ‘brave’ and many condemning it as racist. It led to Powell’s dismissal from the Shadow Cabinet by Conservative leader Edward Heath.
“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’”
March 23rd 1775: Henry’s ‘Give me Liberty’ speech
On this day in 1775, Patrick Henry made his famous “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” speech in Richmond, Virginia. Henry was a skilled orator who championed the independence movement in colonial Virginia and went on to become a Founding Father of the United States. His speech convinced the Virginia House of Burgesses to send Virginian troops to fight the Revolutionary War.
"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
August 28th 1963: ‘I have a dream’ speech
On this day in 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous speech. He called for an end to racial discrimination and a new era of equality, true to the ideals of America’s founding documents. He delivered the speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of over 200,000 supporters of civil rights. The speech was a key moment of the Civil Rights Movement, and is widely considered one of the most famous and influential speeches of all time.
"I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!"
April 20th 1968: Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech
On this day in 1968, British politician Enoch Powell made his controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech at a Conservative Association meeting in Birmingham. Powell was the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West. The speech was vehemently anti-immigration with its ideas that immigrants were ‘ruining’ Britain and many refused to integrate, thus fostering racial and religious tensions and leading to violence. Powell argued for greater restrictions on immigration. The speech was very controversial, with some supporting his comments as ‘brave’ and many condemning it as racist. It led to Powell’s dismissal from the Shadow Cabinet by Conservative leader Edward Heath but his message has since been adopted by far-right groups.
The speech gained its infamous name from its reference to Virgil’s Aeneid:
"As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see 'the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’”