I was six years old. I spent most of a miserably hot day in August, 1963 sitting with my mother under the shade of a tree alongside Constitution Avenue near the Lincoln Memorial. All six members of my immediate family were there, my father, my mother, my three sisters and myself, the youngest. We drove all the way from Cincinnati, known as the most northern of southern cities. We stayed with my aunt and uncle. Though my uncle worked for The Red Cross all his life (across the street, if you know DC), he stayed home because they were convinced there would be riots downtown. They considered my parents insane to risk the lives of their children. Peter, Paul and Mary sang. My father took us one by one to the front of the crowds where he spent most of the day. He put me up on his shoulders, the easiest way to keep track of me. There were lots of people talking.
Months later, on tv, in black and white, I watched JFK's cortege march solemnly past that same tree on its way to Memorial Bridge and Arlington Cemetery. The kids in my class had cheered when the school announced JFK's assassination.
My parents were civil rights activists, unafraid to be different from their neighbors on our street, unafraid to let us play with the "negro" children living in the block behind our house. My parents knew these families, at least superficially, usually through church connections. One man was a recruiter for the Dallas Cowboys. No other kids on my street were allowed to go to these yards, their parents built tall fences in back of their houses, but those same kids were allowed to play at the house of the man who was a suspected child molester.
My parents lived inside the District, in Southwest, for more than 30 years. They called it an act of faith because DC has no real representation in our Congress. The neighborhood was diverse, ethnically and economically. Marion Barry kept some of his girlfriends in their apartment complex at one time. DC is like that. There are stories everywhere, good and bad.
Early in those years, when I was away in college, my mother marched for the Equal Rights Amendment, for women's rights. I had her sash on my wall in my dorm. Yesterday, at 86, my mother may have voted for the last time in a Presidential election. She almost didn't, having broken her arm and fractured some ribs only a couple of weeks ago. But she went down the hall to the polling place, pacing herself and resting along the way, with my sister's help, in the late afternoon to vote for her candidate, a man she's been supporting ever since he declared his candidacy.
My parents aren't perfect. They're a product of their time. They have prejudices that I don't share. But they have ideals as well. They believe in the United States, they believe in democracy, they believe in equality, in protection for everyone under the law.
My daughter is even more blind to the externalities of a person than I am, than my parents are. It has taken generations of effort to bring this to pass. The kids are taught now (in this area) to celebrate diversity, not to fear it. They're being raised in a global environment.
People who believed in civil rights (for all) have worked hard to change cultural attitudes. I salute them. I never thought we could elect someone "different" in my lifetime. I thought it would have to wait for my daughter or her children to take that step.
Here we go. We live in interesting times.