This article is a special preview of the September issue of COMMENTARY. You can subscribe here.
On August 28, 1963, a quarter million Americans staged the most important demonstration in our nation’s history. They marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial in what is now remembered primarily as the setting for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But it was much more than that. The speech was epochal precisely because the event culminated the civil-rights “revolution” that put an end to the dark era of racial segregation and open discrimination.
Growing up in an activist household, I was, although just shy of 16, already a seasoned protester, having for example first seen Washington when my parents took me to the 1958 Youth March for Integrated Schools, a prequel to the 1963 march. Thanks to being in the right place at the right time, I now found myself in the role of coordinator of two old yellow school buses bringing marchers from Harlem to Washington. As we prepared for the nighttime drive to the capital, the sense of anticipation in the air along 125th Street was not limited to those who would make the journey. In a late-night drugstore, I assembled the contents of a first-aid kit for each bus, and when I told the clerks it was for the march, they cheered and refused to accept payment.