When I was 12 years old I got to spend 10 minutes talking one to one with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was a junior reporter for my high school newspaper, and my father encouraged me to join the grown-up journalists at a press conference in my home city, Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. King was scheduled to fly to Norway afterwards to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
Members of the press gathered at a meeting room at the Netherland Hilton Hotel and waited for Dr. King for close to an hour. Finally it was announced that he had come down with a cold or flu and had hoped to make it down from his hotel suite but decided against it. It so happened that my father had a small business and one of his customers was another great civil rights leader, the late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. After checking with me if I would be interested, Dad asked Rev. Shuttlesworth if it might be OK if just one, very young reporter would be allowed to go and visit Dr. King now that Dr. King was not going to come down to speak at the press conference.
To my surprise, Rev. Shuttlesworth liked the idea, and Dr. King said yes. About half an hour later I was escorted to Dr. King’s suite high up in the hotel, by a then 32-year old Andrew Young, who later became US Ambassador to the UN and Mayor of Atlanta.
After waiting for what seemed a long time in the front part of the suite, two large security gentlemen showed up wearing heavy coats and scowls. They stared at me for several minutes, then smiled and disappeared. Then a voice called to me and I walked into the next room to see Dr. King. He was wearing a white shirt and tie, but lying down covered by a bedspread, and watching the Cleveland Browns playing football on TV.
Dad had helped me craft a few questions. Mostly I asked Dr. King to elaborate about the part of his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” in which he declared, “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 the skin but by the content of their character.” That was such a strong thing to say, it was not just about their rights, or children’s rights generally, but it was about virtue and character as well. He had a deep core about him that was as powerful as his oratory. He talked with me about his vision of white and black children being able to play together peacefully and safely, not just in some parts of the country, but everywhere.
Years later I met Ron Kovic, a co-founder of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the subject of the movie Born on the Fourth of July. I told him about my meeting with Dr. King. Ron thanked me “for working for peace.” The concept of fighting against war always confused me, seemed contradictory, partly because fighting against something is warlike and partly because some wars might seem more justifiable than others, but working for peace felt inspiring.
I began wondering, how much had I actually done “for peace” since meeting Dr. King at age 12? The recollection of meeting with Dr. King, and Ron Kovic’s comment, helped move me in the direction of working as an environmental activist and becoming involved in community.
- David Glober