I arrived in Washington, D.C., in August 1963, just a few days before the March on Washington. I was reporting for a year of training in the Foreign Service Institute then an assignment abroad somewhere.
I was raised in the South and educated in segregated schools without the least sensitivity to or awareness of injustices suffered by people of color. But by the time I reached Washington somehow I had the political consciousness to understand that the cause of the marchers was just. I decided to join them.
My main concern was possible damage to my fledgling career. This was the time of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Hoover tried to paint Martin Luther King and all who sympathized with him as communists or fellow travelers.
The day was muggy but joyful. I saw a few white faces in the crowd but, thankfully, no one I knew.
The last speaker was Martin Luther King. The great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson revived the crowd with two songs, and the Rev. King began. His speech wore on until Jackson became concerned that he had not really communicated his dream and that of everyone in front of him. “Tell them about the dream, Martin,” she said in his ear.
Then came the passage for which the speech is most remembered:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character … and if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”
Almost 50 years later I recited these words to my granddaughter’s first-grade class. Because I had been present at the Martin Luther King speech, I was guest of honor at a dramatization of the civil rights movement, something that would have been unimaginable when I was in the first grade. I could not say the words without choking back a tear.