Every year, on this day honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., I recall my encounter with him at a peace march. I was nine and growing up in Greenwich Village in New York City.
My mother and I lived in the Village, and my parents, though divorced, were part of the artistic crowd of the day, my father having been general manager of the Living Theater for a time, then-art critic and editor for New York Herald Tribune, and my mother a former actress. Of course, we were politically and socially liberal, and I guess in hindsight, it was an idyllic moment and place in time. We lived on the corner of Bedford and Grove Streets, our friends were artists and musicians the likes of Robert Frank, Charlie Mingus, DeKooning; Calvin Trillin and family were next-door neighbors, and the Stonewall riots were a very local affair. Going with my mom to a peace march one day in 1967, seems a pretty ordinary affair in retrospect.
But this particular peace march did turn out different for me, and as I recall it was due to our relationship with Sue Mingus, wife of jazz bassist and activist Charlie Mingus. When I was nine-years-old, one day we met Sue, Charlie, and her two kids from a former marriage at Central Park and joined the throngs of people marching. Mingus was active in the peace movement, and knew the organizers of the march. The organizers were looking for one or two children to come up to the front of the march, hold signs and, of course, present a good photo opportunity to the press (we made the front page of the New York Daily News the next day). I recall being chosen along with another child. But for some reason, only one child was needed and they took me away from my friends and family and up to the front of the march.
At the march's vanguard, I met Dr. King and others and was given a number of protest signs. We used the one that read: "Children are not Born to Burn" in reference to the napalm strikes in Vietnam. Then we marched, and it was Dr. Spock who took charge of me while we marched through the park and then through the streets of New York, ending up at the United Nations where we eventually met up with my mother for the Peace Rally. Maybe due to my tender age, my recollection of antiwar sentiment was less vivid than memories of Dr. Spock's strong, nurturing and parental presence, our generation's Baby Doctor, and a calming influence on one young peace marcher.