How a D.C. hotel played an important role in Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech

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WASHINGTON (GrayDC) -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired millions of people throughout his life. His message of inclusion and serving others continues to make a difference around the world.

Civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. sat on black, leather couches in the lobby of the Willard Intercontinental Hotel to meet with his advisors the day before his famous speech. (Source: Gray DC)

His 'I Have A Dream' speech is critical to that legacy.

“MLK, he was a very integral part of African-American history and he’s the reason why opportunities are afforded to people that look like me,” said Marvin Pierre, junior at Howard University. Pierre is a member of the first Black Greek-lettered fraternity in the nation, Alpha Phi Alpha.

“His 'I Have A Dream' speech definitely resonates with me,” said Pierre.

Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. But it was down the street at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel where Dr. King crafted the speech hours before delivering it to 250,000 people.

“One of his most historic visits,” said Senior Marketing Manager at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel.

Scanlon said Martin Luther King Jr. sat on black, leather couches in the hotel lobby and hammered out the speech with his advisors.

We spoke with Dr. Clarence B. Jones by phone. Jones was one of Dr. King’s political advisors with him that day. He said he paid bellhops to create a secluded area hidden with plants in the lobby so King and his advisors could work together uninterrupted.

Jones said he drafted the first paragraphs of the speech based on weeks of discussions. Then King retreated to his room to put the finishing touches on the famous speech.

“Our account is he worked through the night to finish it,” said Scanlon.

Today, visitors and guests can walk through the Willard’s hotel and museum to learn more about King’s historic visit.

“They want to know where he sat, what room was his floor on, did he eat here?” said Scanlon.

The King family holds a private event each year at the hotel to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy.

Copyright 2020 Gray DC. All rights reserved.

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