It was the late spring of 1963, and my friend Martin was exhausted. The campaign to integrate the public facilities in Birmingham had been successful but also tremendously taxing. In its aftermath, he wanted nothing more than to take Coretta and the children away for a vacation and forget – forget the looming book deadline, the office politics of his ever-growing Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the constant need to raise funds.
But a date for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom had been nailed down – Aug. 28 – and Martin realized he couldn’t plan such a massive undertaking with the usual endless interruptions. No, if this march were going to come together in time, he would have to escape all the distractions. (This was a man, after all, whose best writing was done inside a jail cell.) He needed to get away to a place where very few people could reach him.
That would be my house in Riverdale, N.Y.
For the previous three years, I had been an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., his personal lawyer and one of his speechwriters. Stanley Levison, another adviser who had done even more work with Martin on his speeches than I had, was also a New Yorker. Because of some dark ops on the part of the FBI, Martin could not deal directly with Stanley, yet he very much valued his advice, so it made sense for Martin to stay at my home and have me act as a go-between as we planned the March on Washington – and the speech Martin would deliver.