What He Received:
Units of Tradition
ONE evening in the early days of the Albany campaign, Martin Luther King and his young associate James Bevel visited Mount Olive Baptist Church in "Terrible" Terrell County, Georgia. Only one night earlier, Bevel had spoken at a voter registration meeting at the church. In the middle of the night the church had been torched, one of seven black-church burnings that occurred within a two-week period around Albany. Now King, Bevel, and other volunteers had returned to conduct a service in the charred remains of the sanctuary.
In the service a young woman, a college student and member of SNCC, led the prayers of the community. She spoke with the conviction King had come to expect from the sNCC activists, but also with an innocence and idealism peculiar to the young. The students often spoke of their dream for black people in America, and, as she prayed, the young woman began to intone her own vision of the future with the phrase "I have a dream." That evening the whole church, including its most distinguished visitor, swayed to the phrase, "I have a dream."
The metaphor of the dream is a staple of black religion, as old as the prophet Joel's vision,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
And your young men shall see visions,
and as commonplace as the untutored Negro preacher's evocation of a better life across the Jordan. According to one field investigator, an old preacher in Macon County ignited the church with his cry,
And I dream, chill'un!