by Tom Ashley

“What are you doing?” inquired Edward “Ted” Lewis, the crusty and revered columnist and chief of the Washington Bureau of the New York Daily News. “I’m researching stories for McGowan and Van Den Heuvel,” I said as I plowed through a pile of AP and UPI clippings stacked on my desk. It was one of my duties as the go-fer for the then two million daily readers of New York’s ‘Hometown Newspaper.’

Lewis looked at me and barked, “You’re coming with me to hear Dr. King speak.” We made our way on foot to the Lincoln Memorial from the National Press Building. My eyes widened. Standing in the sweltering 90 degree heat, I saw massive poverty on a level I’d never witnessed before. Eschewing our press passes, we stood among the throng. As speaker after speaker cried out for justice. I saw an old man in patched overalls and a beat up straw hat, barefoot – standing but a foot away. It shocked me as I witnessed hundreds more in tattered clothing standing and cheering.

In my hometown of Detroit in 1963 there was zero unemployment, and I thought that my hometown represented a happy lifestyle for all. I’d worked alongside many apparently satisfied blacks in my father’s commercial laundry business. Blacks were always welcomed in our home at Christmas and 4th of July parties. I’d failed to recognize the absence of blacks in my neighborhood, my school – my whole environ.

As Dr. King referenced the hundredth anniversary of The Emancipation Proclamation in his “I Have a Dream” speech, I glanced over at Ted Lewis, the embodiment of the tough-as-nails, hard- nosed-right –down-to-the Lucky-Strike- dangling-from-his-lips reporter, weeping.

Shaken, we walked back to our office in silence. We’ve all heard King’s indelible words repeated many times since that day, but all I see in my mind’s eye is that poor, poor man, having made his way to our nation’s Capitol, standing in his bare feet, seeking justice.

After a lifetime in broadcasting sales and production, I found a love of writing at the IRP thanks to the support of my coordinators and classmates.