Peter Jennings Reporting: MLK's Dream

"I have a dream." It was one of the most dramatic lines of the 20th century. Spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the summer of 1963, it cut deeply into the culture's consciousness when America was deeply divided and at war with itself.

Marking the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington, ABCNEWS Anchor Peter Jennings revisits Martin Luther King Jr.'s most famous speech and the turmoil of the times that surrounded it in an ABCNEWS special, airing Aug. 28 at 10 p.m.

In its own way, King's speech on the Washington Mall was as important for America in the 1960s as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was to the 1860s and as both are to the America in which we live today.

What was King's dream that summer?

When President Kennedy took office, black Americans were hopeful. During his campaign, he had often said he would end segregation with the stroke of a pen. But by the summer of 1963, Kennedy had done almost nothing about civil rights.

Just months before the historic march on Washington, the national press was watching as Alabama officials turned police dogs and fire hoses on children assembled for a demonstration in a public park in Birmingham, Ala. In Jackson, Miss., teenagers were staging sit-ins at Woolworth's counters. City after city became engulfed in the conflict over civil rights.

Civil rights activist Dick Gregory said the televised images of turmoil in the South galvanized the movement and had an enormous impact on white America. "We didn't win this fight out of some morality," he said. "We won the fight because the pictures that went around the world."

King knew America was on the brink of great change. On Aug. 28, 1963, King stood before the largest crowd ever before gathered on the Washington Mall, in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, and shook America with the power of his words. "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."

It was an event of such magnitude that it was telecast live on all of the national networks. White America — and the world — heard King's message in all its eloquence.