This story, one of many marking today as the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, is for several reasons particularly moving and well-told — it brought on some serious choking up as I was making coffee. Specifically, the amazing section about Mahalia Jackson.
I'm going to excerpt the text below in case folks can't listen, but the audio includes Jackson singing, which is always enough to give you chills.
Among [Clarence B. Jones's] most vivid memories is singer Mahalia Jackson at the microphone, Jones says. "How could you not be moved by this woman's voice? You would have to be unfortunately afflicted with some type of muscular disease that would prevent your muscles reacting to what your ear brought to your body."
Of all the entertainers that day, Mahalia Jackson was the singer who had a special hold on King. When King was feeling down, he would speak with Jackson on the phone.
"I guess you would put it now as 'telephone gospel therapy,' " Jones says. "And he would speak to Mahalia Jackson and he would say, 'Mahalia, please sing to me. I'm having a rough day today.'
"And she would sing one or more of his favorite songs, and ... he would close his eyes listening to her," Jones continues. "In some cases, tears would come down his face and then he would say, 'Mahalia, you are giving me the Lord's voice this morning.' "
King had enormous respect for Jackson, Jones says. And because of that, the reverend listened to her when she offered him unsolicited advice while King stood at the podium on the day of the march.
While he was reading from the prepared text, Jones says, Jackson shouted at King. "This is after she had performed, of course, she's sitting down, and she just shouted at him ... 'Tell 'em about the dream, Martin! Tell 'em about the dream!' "
Jackson knew that King had delivered a rousing speech earlier that summer at Detroit's Cobo Hall, bringing the crowd to a feverish pitch when he preached about his dream for a better America. So despite King's prepared script that August day, Jackson encouraged him to bring that moment from Detroit to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
"Now, most people probably didn't have the slightest idea what Mahalia was yelling to Dr. King," Jones says. "What he did upon hearing that, he took the text of the speech — the written text that he was reading — and he moved it to the left side of the lectern [and] grabbed the lectern with both his hands.
"And I see this and I turn to the person standing next to me ... and I said, 'These people don't know it, but they're about ready to go to church.' "
ETA: Sorry for putting everyone through formatting hell — after like ten attempts, this is the best I can do pre-coffee!