Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s iconic speech, Yahoo asked Americans who remember the speech to share their recollections and what it meant to them.
FIRST PERSON | Dad turned up the radio so I could hear the evil voice of Martin Luther King Jr.
“Hear that?” he sneered as he stood in the kitchen in Glen Cove, N.Y. “They hire professional speakers.” The crowd roared at Dad’s contempt. I listened.
… their destiny is tied up with our destiny…
Dad pointed at the radio.
“Them!” he said, glaring at me.
Dad did this every week or so. A CBS network engineer, he worked on Cronkite and 60 Minutes. Night after night, he spliced footage from the South of wild young thugs who attacked nice white people walking down the street.
“They run through Harlem throwin’ bricks at windows! ‘nya know what they do? ‘Ah’m gunna git mah-self a new TV dat ah dussint hafta pay fawwww!'”
We cannot be satisfied…
I imagined the sea of Negro faces in Washington. Dad, the Navy man, the St. Augustine High School graduate, the Goldwater Democrat who loved Nixon and Agnew, the good Catholic who mocked the new buzzword “ecology” and hated flag-burning pot-smoking long-haired war protesters, was unimpressed.
Like most people back then, Dad believed that civil rights was a plot to pick the pockets of nice white people who worked for a living by breaking their windows and stealing their televisions.
… Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice…
As Dad saw it, George Wallace, the governor of Mississippi, had the right idea: Arrest all the protesters and put them in jail — with Jane Fonda, in a camp in Vietnam.
Dad was not alone. Rioters breaking windows followed by police decked out in riot gear dragging them around by their legs and clobbering them with night sticks were all we saw of most protests, every night, for months. This, to Dad and most Americans, was what civil rights boiled down to: Broken windows and lazy people, led by professional speakers like Martin Luther King.
I have a dream!
Dad turned 90 this year. Strangely, not even Dad wants to admit how much he hated Martin Luther King, whose violent death almost seemed assured. No one remembers that in another lifetime, the popular view of the civil rights movement was that it was a corruption of democracy, a mission of dark-skinned, anti-white hoodlums in Afros looking for free televisions.
Hindsight is indeed 20/20. But in the throes of change, it’s hard to tell who’s right and wrong. Most of the world is not on your side. Even things as obvious as clearly God-given as equal rights for kindergarten children with brown skin can be too much of a sea change for the status quo.
From Martin Luther King, I learned that great leaders are great because they are not afraid to stand alone and be misunderstood. Or hated. They are the very picture of courage. They have a dream.
And, sometimes, they die.