Save Money in this Sunday's paper

comments

For the Rev. George Battle, a full-circle dream

More Information

  • August 28, 1963: 'I Have a Dream'
  • NAACP marks anniversary with rallies
  • King: Dreamer and warrior
  • Carolinian: Why I attended March on Washington
  • Obama embodies King's dream, struggle
  • Caroline Kennedy to join rally
  • Siers cartoon: MLK Memorial
  • NAACP marks anniversary with rallies

    Organizers of the Moral Monday protests plan to hold rallies in Charlotte, Concord, Lincolnton and 10 other cities across North Carolina Wednesday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

    The “Taking the Dream Home to Charlotte” rally will start at 5:30 p.m. in Marshall Park.

    State NAACP President William Barber II said in a news release that rallies in each of the state’s 13 congressional districts will “bring to light the unconstitutional and immoral acts of the N.C. General Assembly and the influence their decisions have had on our local communities.”

    In Concord, the rally will take place at the King memorial on Cabarrus Avenue. In Lincolnton, demonstrators will gather at the Lincoln County courthouse. Jim Morrill


  • More information

    Live coverage

    Cable news and broadcast networks will air the 50th anniversary program at the Lincoln Memorial beginning at 11 a.m. It features members of Martin Luther King Jr.’s family, former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and a speech by President Barack Obama.

    Washington Post



George Battle was 15 when he watched Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” message – not from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial but nine months earlier, in a packed Rocky Mount gymnasium in Eastern North Carolina.

“My friends of Rocky Mount, I have a dream tonight,” Battle heard King tell more than 1,800 people at Booker T. Washington High on Nov. 27, 1962. “It is a dream rooted deeply in the American Dream … I have a dream that one day – right here in Rocky Mount, North Carolina – the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will meet at the table of brotherhood.”

Scholars say it was the first known time King used the “dream” language he made famous 50 years ago in Washington.

“Until somebody comes forward and says there was an earlier time, it was the first time he ever used the phrase, ‘I have a dream,’ ” said Claiborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. “It was a turning point, where he personalized the American Dream. It made his message … more effective.”

For young George Battle, it was a turning point, too. After working all day in an Edgecombe County tobacco field in November 1962, Battle had hiked into town to the all-black high school to hear King speak.

“People were saying this guy is going to get us freedoms and opportunities we never had,” Battle recalled.

“So I was curious. … You couldn’t tell your boss you were going to see Martin Luther King because they saw him as an agitator.”

‘Dream’ rehearsal

During most of his 55-minute speech that night, King recited the evils of segregation – what he described as “a cancer in the body politic” – and called for ending it through ballots, courts and nonviolent protests.

Foreshadowing the Washington speech he would make on Aug. 28, 1963, he ended with an appeal: “Let freedom ring ... from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire (and) every hill and molehill of Mississippi. Let it ring from every mountain of North Carolina.”

The transcript, kept in Rocky Mount’s public library, shows people responding with shouts of “Tell it!” and “Jesus!” At one point, it describes the response with a single word: “tumult.” When King finished, everyone joined him in singing “We Shall Overcome.”

King’s North Carolina visit came during a difficult time for him and his movement. Three months earlier, a long desegregation effort in Albany, Ga., had been marred by violence and ended in failure and frustration. King shouldered much of the blame.

“The rest of the world didn’t know this, but in King’s world, this was a low point for him,” civil rights historian Taylor Branch told the Observer in 2001. “He felt the movement had been stagnating since the Freedom Rides.”

According to Branch, King never planned to use the “Dream” language at the Lincoln Memorial. Branch has written that it was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who shouted “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin.”

The day King spoke about his dream in Washington, Battle sat in front of his mother’s TV and watched a rebroadcast of the speech, much like the one he’d heard in Rocky Mount nine months before. “When I heard the words he spoke in Washington, it all resonated,” Battle said. “I was thinking, ‘This is why they said we should follow this guy.’”

50 years of ministry, politics

Battle got involved with AME Zion church as a teen. Later ordained, he pastored congregations in both Carolinas and went on to chair the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board.

In 1992, he was elected an AME bishop and became senior bishop of the Charlotte district in 2012. He serves the board of directors of Carolinas HealthCare, Central Piedmont Community College and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Last fall, he was a North Carolina delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Battle, who heard an early version of King’s most famous lines, this week got a preview of another speech – the one President Barack Obama will deliver at the Lincoln Memorial Wednesday on the anniversary of King’s address.

On Monday, Battle gathered with Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and other religious leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, where they talked about the anniversary as well as health care and other issues.

“Obama just shared generalities about what he was thinking about (saying),” Battle said. “I think the tone will be, ‘We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go.’ ”

Battle thought about how far he’s come from the tobacco fields of Eastern North Carolina to a White House meeting with the nation’s first African-American president.

“It still seems unreal,” he said. “I pinch myself to say, ‘Is this really you?’ … Yet here I am meeting with the president of the United States. I’m still trying to see if this is really me or if I’m in a dream. … Only in America.”

Morrill: 704-358-5059
Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more



Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more


Quick Job Search
Salary Databases