Seeds for Dr. King's 'Dream' speech sown In Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A statue in uptown Charlotte, a center city street, and a local middle school all validate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Images from Greensboro's Bennett College in 1958 and Charlotte's Johnson C. Smith University five years later demonstrate his commitment to historically black colleges in North Carolina.

However, one trip to the Queen City during 1960 offered insight into a moment that would define his life.

Kelly Alexander Jr was among the 2,700 packing at a very full The Park Center.

"When you get somebody in town like Dr. King, the place is packed and jammed," Alexander said. "It was an opportunity for the people who were the future to actually see one of the generals of the movement in person, up close and personal."

Weeks earlier, Charlotte integrated its restaurants following months of tense lunch counter sit-ins.

Activist Charles Jones, who led the local student effort, rubbed elbows with King at the Park Center. He would be arrested with King months later in Albany, Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama.

"As his image evolved with the many things Martin was involved in, local people wanted to be part of the process," Jones said.

The word "dream" electrified the March on Washington, but an early version and vision of that speech was unleashed here in Charlotte.

"He gave one of the first speeches in which you use the dream metaphor," Hanchett said.

The words were delivered Charlotte three years before such a profound gathering caused America to look at itself in a different way.

"He kept trying to find a way to say it that would catch people's imagination," Hanchett said, "and finally in Washington - on the March on Washington, 1963 - he had it. But he was searching for it right in Charlotte."

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