This weekend marks many of the celebrations in connection with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Wednesday is the actual anniversary and will feature President Barack Obama speaking in the same space occupied by The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago.
Id love to tell you that I was there to hear King talk about his dream. I wasnt. Id like to tell you how socially aware I was just shy of my 12th birthday, but that would be revisionist history. I cant recall knowing Kings name or what he was trying to accomplish.
Compared to the South, I lived in the friendly confines of Los Angeles. If we had problems similar to the South, I didnt know about them. We had no black and white water fountains and could eat at Woolworths counter, which I frequented often.
I know now that all was not well, even in California. In August 1965, not far from where I used to live, the Watts Riots broke out and six days of violence followed, taking more than 34 lives, resulting in more than 1,000 injuries and ending with over 3,000 arrests. I remember watching the carnage on television, but I had no clue about the grievances at the base of the riots cause.
In 1964, my mother and I moved to Stockton, Calif., 365 miles north, dead in the center of the San Joaquin Valley. I still dont recall whether I had heard of King or not. I do remember stories my mother told me about growing up in Arkansas. I knew I didnt want to travel anywhere near the South. When I was 7 years old, we had traveled from Los Angeles to New York City. After visiting family in Arkansas, our route went north, avoiding Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Little did I know that everything was, to borrow a Dick Gregory phrase, south of the Canadian border.
I know now why the March on Washington was the most significant civil rights event up to that date. They say 250,000 people walked, took buses, carpooled and drove to the Capitol City in a visible display the world had not known before. They did it at risk of their jobs and their lives. The American born terrorists were still at work.
Less than a month after the historic march, sick racists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church on a Sunday morning, killing Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair. None had reached their 15th birthday. The man who placed the bomb under the steps of the church, Robert Chambliss, was only charged with possession of dynamite without a license. He and his three accomplices walked as free men for decades, Such were the times, but justice finally caught up with them.
I didnt understand what King meant in his Dream when he said, I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification ... I had to head to the dictionary. What the hell was interposition and nullification?
The March on Washington (officially the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom) became real for me 20 years ago when I attended the 30th anniversary in 1993.
There were throngs of people carrying banners and making speeches, but King had been dead for 25 years, participants werent risking life and limb to be there, segregated counters were a relic and schools were integrated. The racists who sought to kill rather than allow black children to sit next to white children, crawled back into their deep holes, their behavior no longer acceptable in public discourse.
And something else has happened that couldnt be envisioned in 1963. A president, a black one, was elected in 2008 and received a second term in 2012.
We are not there yet. Parts of Kings dream remain unfulfilled. Some of his dream has been bastardized, but 50 years is a short span in the continuum of time. We -- all Americans -- have come a long way. This commemoration of the March on Washington gives all of us a reason to celebrate.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraphs editorial page editor. He can be reached at (478)744-4342 or via email at email@example.com. Tweet @crichard1020.