To Become a Human Being

IN 1963 I WENT on that famous March on Washington, and the clearest memory that I have of it is standing near the Lincoln Memorial hearing the song "We Shall Overcome" sung by the quarter of a million or so people who were there. And while I listened, my eye fell on one very old Negro man, with a face like shoe leather and a sleazy suit and an expression that was more befuddled than anything else; and I wondered to myself if, quite apart from the whole civil-rights question, that poor old bird could ever conceivably overcome anything. He was there to become a human being. Well, and so were the rest of us. And so are we all, no less befuddled than he when you come right down to it. Poor old bird, poor young birds, every one of us. And deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome some day, as he will, by God's grace, by helping the seed of the kingdom grow in ourselves and in each other until finally in all of us it becomes a tree where the birds of the air can come and make their nests in our branches. That is all that matters really. 

- Originally published in The Magnificent Defeat 

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