A USF scholar and civil rights leader who helped draft Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was honored as a hero during a campus celebration of the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights March on Washington.
Clarence B. Jones was King’s confidant, legal counsel, and speechwriter and is now an adjunct professor and diversity scholar at USF. At the celebration in McLaren Conference Center on Sept. 3, representatives from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission gave him a lifetime “Hero” award and Mayor Ed Lee presented him with a com-memorative plaque.
Jones accepted the honors on behalf of all civil rights activists, and then grasped the lectern with both hands, bowed his head, and filled the conference hall with a baritone rendition of the civil rights hymn “Oh Freedom.” Many in the audience of 500 were moved to tears.
Pausing a moment, he then spoke proudly of USF and connected the university’s educational mission to King’s vision, telling the audience about a university memorial that honors Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, S.J., who was assassinated in 1980 to silence his support for his country’s poor and oppressed—not unlike King. “That memorial is a reflection of the soul of the University of San Francisco,” Jones said. “When you celebrate the March on Washington 50 years later as an institution, you are reconnecting the moral line that goes from King’s extraordinary leadership of this country to the sacrifice made by Archbishop Oscar Romero and what you are seeking to do today as an institution.”
Jones later urged the crowd to work for social justice. “We can choose to be bystanders, to cover our eyes and ears,” he said, “or become proactive to meet the challenge that Dr. King’s legacy and commitment to nonviolence presents to us.”
The August 1963 March on Washington drew 250,000 participants to the nation’s capital and was the largest public gathering in U.S. history to that point in time. It culminated with King’s iconic speech at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.
Now 82, Jones teaches classes at USF on speech writing and the history of U.S. civil rights and has recorded an audio version of his book, “Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech That Transformed a Nation” (2011). The University of San Francisco funded the recording project.
Jones says he remains committed to telling his story far and wide. “Fable has it, if the surviving lions do not tell their story, then the hunters will get all the credit,” Jones said. “So part of what I do everywhere I go is to tell the story, as a surviving lion, about one of the most extraordinary lions that ever lived in our pride — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.”