I was just a couple of weeks shy of my 10th birthday when Martin Luther King Jr gave his historic “I have a dream” speech. I remember running through the living room of our south Florida home headed for the bathroom and being sternly shushed by my father. He was standing in front of our television set watching what I assumed was the news. My father never missed the news. And we kids never disturbed him when he watched the news. Ever.
He would begin each broadcast comfortably settled on the long sofa opposite the console – where depending on the seriousness of the day’s events – he would remain until Chet and David said their good nights. Or he would watch their sign-off standing. His posture and proximity to the small screen was determined solely by the gravity of the reportage. The more important the story was, the closer the gap between my dad and the black and white images flitting behind the glass. And the louder the volume. This day he was as close as he could get without sacrificing visual quality. And the sound was way up.
As he shushed me (and I ground to a halt), I turned to the tv set to see what my father was watching so intently. Martin Luther King Jr was delivering his iconic speech in Washington DC. I was transfixed. I stood beside my father in our living room as the sound of Dr. King’s voice rang out, filling every corner… “I have a dream…” he intoned, touching my heart. I was too young to understand the reason for his words – I was too young to recognize the injustices of the world that made them necessary – but I sensed their import. I felt their truth.
When Dr. King finished speaking I turned to my father and I asked him who he was. “A great man,” my dad replied. I pressed him for more information – I wanted to know what I was witnessing: why was the man speaking? Why were so many people gathered to listen to him? Why were the police there? My father didn’t answer me – instead he shooed me back outside to play with my sister and brother.
But I never forgot that moment. I remember clearly that late summer Sunday back when I was a kid listening to a man whose name I didn’t yet know give a speech that would one day be hailed as historic. A speech whose words were destined to change the hearts and minds of a nation. I remember the passion in his voice and the courage in his eyes. I remember the cheers of the crowd.
And I remember a moment shared with my father.