Thirty years ago, this reporter was covering the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington. To prepare, a check was made of the bound volumes of the stories written on the day of the march by the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. It turned out that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not mentioned until about 40 inches into the story.
Recently, Robert Kaiser, former managing editor of the Washington Post recalled his experience covering the march as a young reporter. He noted that the Post also barely mentioned King’s dream speech.
The coverage is a reminder that history looks a lot clearer and more certain in the rear-view mirror. At the time of the march, nothing seemed certain about civil rights. Segregationist southern Democrats had civil rights legislation tied up in the Congress. President John F. Kennedy did not attend the march, although he greeted leaders at the White House that day. The history changing events that shook the nation – the murder of four little girls in a bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi and Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus bridge – all lay ahead. So did passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 banning housing discrimination.
All this history seems predestined from the vantage point of 2013. But nothing seemed certain when the top reporters of some of the nation’s leading papers couldn’t even recognize King’s history-making appeal to the nation among the events of the march 50 years ago.