If you listen to the early parts of the speech, it centers on the dignity of common men and the withholding of that dignity. In the midst of the speech, King says:
In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."
This, is the core of what he came to say, and it's a shame that it's forgotten in it's stirring aftermath.
The "I have a dream" portion which ends the speech, and for which it is remembered, was an afterthought. It was part of his standard stump at the time, and witnesses on the stage, say that he turned his papers face-down on the lectern as he began this portion.
All of the speeches that day were given from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, facing across the Reflecting Pool, past the Washington Monument, and finally aimed at the Capitol Building, where they hoped their words would be heard.
Until 1980, Presidents were inaugurated on the East Side of the Capitol Bldg. Ronald Reagan, no slouch when it came to symbolism, decided it would be more appropriate for Presidents to be inaugurated on the West Side...facing the nation, as it were. By all accounts, Reagan had a clear mandate going into office, with over 50% of the popular vote. Photos of his 1981 inauguration looking over his shoulder at the crowd show a respectable turnout...reaching all the way across the street to the Capitol Hill Reflecting Pool. Take a good look and see how conveniently they were able to park those six or seven tour buses on The Mall.
Tomorrow, they are estimating 3 million people showing up for Obama's Inauguration. I, for one, think they're underestimating that number. The talk is that the crowds may reach all the way from the Western Steps of the Capitol Building all the way past The Mall, past the Washington Monument, past the Reflecting Pool, and up to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. So by virtue of Ronald Reagan moving the inauguration from one side of the Capitol to the other, Barack Obama will be looking out over a sea of people tomorrow...eye to eye with Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, albeit with an interval of forty-five years.
Those years seem so interminably long and at the same time, gone in an instant.