Fifty years ago today, I wasn’t speaking to my parents. I was glued to the TV, angry at them that they had blocked me from going to Washington, D.C. for the march and demonstration in support of civil rights. The bi-racial couple across the street were going, and knowing that I was active in my community and area, had reassured my parents that they would take me and bring me home. But my parents were afraid that violence would erupt and they put their parental feet down. They were learning to live with the fact that I was getting thrown out of my high school and other schools for organizing political protests and demonstrations, but the risk of violence terrified them.
And so I missed being there for what became Martin Luther King’s iconic “I had a dream” speech.
My mother and I discussed their parenting decision many times over the decades that followed, as we did their decision to block me from going to Mississippi in the summer of ’64 to join the voter registration drive there. In time, when I became a parent myself, I came to understand the depth of their fears. But I could never wholly forgive them those decisions – or myself for not doing what I thought was necessary and right.
Less than two years later, I would stand face-to-face with Reverend King when he came to our area. And decades later, I would pay my respects to his memory at the church where he preached and at the memorial to him. But I’ve always regretted I wasn’t there that day 50 years ago.
I wonder what he would say now about our government surveilling all our communications. And what would he say about a President who unilaterally decides to attack another country? I think he would use his charisma and voice to tell us that we must keep protesting these violations of human rights. But I’m pretty sure he would also advocate to continue nonviolent means to address them.
Today, as I do every year, I will watch and listen to his stirring speech of 50 years ago. I hope the President will, too.