My nephew Will is an editor at The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y. His father, like me, was also a newspaperman and also covered the March on Washington. But Bill had a better seat than I did, as you’ll see:
My father, Bill, worked as a reporter for urban newspapers from the time he was a teenager up until we moved up to Saranac Lake in 1971. In August of 1963, he was on an assignment I asked him to write about, so he did:
Fifty years ago, I attended the March on Washington. Through the years that experience has grown in personal importance. At the time, I was a young reporter for The Trentonian, a morning newspaper in Trenton, New Jersey, which at the time was perhaps half black.
Memories of that experience are still strong, and I have a picture of Martin Luther King giving his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech hanging at the foot of my bed. Miraculously, one of the few clippings I have from that time on The Trentonian is my story of the March on Washington. It’s browning now and fragile, but still legible. The headline reads, ‘1,000 Area Demonstrators Join March in Washington.’
I did not mention King’s speech until the end of my story, which included the usage common during that time. For instance, I refer to King as ‘the Negro leader with charisma,’ as if I was writing for a white audience to whom King was not well known at the time. It surprised me today to read my story because I failed to focus on King’s famous speech until the end of my long piece.
Luckily, by chance, I was able to sit near him on the platform constructed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when he spoke of ‘this sweltering summer of negroes’ discontent’ and of ‘a revolt which will shake the foundations of this nation,’ which included what he termed ‘an island of poverty in this vast ocean of material prosperity.’ How much and yet how little has changed in the past half century.
The last paragraph reads, ‘As he finished, the 4 o’clock sun cast the shadow of the Washington Monument across the Lincoln Memorial, and King spoke of his dreams for Negro equality. At that moment, it seemed the whole throng of Negroes was dreaming with him.’
How naive it sounds today.
Wednesday night, my wife and I watched a documentary, “The March,” on public TV. It showed the months of work that went into the event, and the long day of speakers and performers. As the film wound down, it showed excerpts of King’s speech. We had been commenting on the documentary, but the timbre of King’s voice has a way of holding you still, so you can hardly breathe.
For a moment, we were dreaming with him.