It was 45 years ago today when Martin Luther King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech in Washington, D.C.
I was a 16-year old kid from the suburbs who came to the steamy swamps of the District to join in the historic demonstration and hear what he had to say. I took the bus from Philadelphia with my mom and lots of her lady pals from the American Jewish Congress. The feeling of universal brotherhood, of people united in a common cause is one I can barely describe. It was one of the best days of my life.
It’s hard to imagine now, but the TV news back then regularly showed cops beating African Americans because they demonstrated for equal rights, kids murdered by racists because they wanted change, troops escorting little black kids to newly-integrated schools past jeering mobs of racist ranters. If you can remember how the footage of the Rodney King beating outraged America, you can begin to get an idea of how reports of the ongoing barbarity in the South began to burn the hearts of thoughtful Americans. Night after night on TV.
A quarter million people came to the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial that day, walking arm in arm, singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ We were black and white, young and old, men and women, united with a single thought—we must make this country better.
The message was straight from the Torah: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Leviticus 19).
I remember Bob Dylan being there, and Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary, but mostly I remember The Speech.
MLK’s oratory that day brought tears to my eyes. He captured the soul of America like few had done before.
Tonight, in Denver, another black American will be making a similar appeal to our consciences, our hopes, and our desire for change.
It’s time to stop dreaming and time to get to work to make a Better America real.
August 28, 1963, Washington D.C.