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January 19, 2014

One day, yes, we shall overcome

This week I hope readers will indulge me a moment of memory sharing. I have written about this special memory before, but, from time to time, its recall is very special.

It was in the spring of 1964. Nan and I were living in Middletown Connecticut, where I was getting a masters in psychology from Wesleyan University. The civil rights movement was in full swing. We knew racism firsthand having grown up in the southwest. We believed deeply in equal rights and supported the sweeping changes taking place in the country.

A sociology professor announced that Martin Luther King would be coming by at about 9 in the evening. He would be at a room in the new union building. His speeches were mesmerizing. He was already a towering figure with great moral authority. We definitely wanted to meet him.

Nine came and went. People began to drift away. At about 11 p.m. or so, Dr. King came through the door. There were only about 40 or 50 of us left, but a cheer went up on his arrival. He went around the room shaking hands and greeting each one of us. My 6-foot-5 frame towered over him, but he was solid, obviously physically strong, with broad shoulders and a large, expressive face. His grip was solid.

I remember he never smiled, not even once. It was as if his vocation, his calling, was always with him. He was, as I read it, somber, even sad. Then, even though the crowd was small, he began to speak in that deep, rumbling way of his. His oratory rolled with a sense of poetry and cadence. As he spoke, applause interrupted by reverent silence greeted the power of his very soul.

By almost 1 a.m. in the morning tears were flowing down many white faces as we joined our black friends in singing “We Shall Overcome.” Our hands were linked as we rocked back and forth in a mixture of joy and sadness.

“We shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome some day. Oh deep in my heart I do believe. We shall overcome some day.”

I still believe it for our children and those yet to be.

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Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, you can email Dr. Larry Larsen at lrryllrsn@CS.com.

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