I was seven in 1963. But even though my younger brother and I were just small children, my parents made sure we were aware of current events.
Before 1963 was over, Mom and Dad would try to explain the unexplainable, the assassination of a president.
They also made sure we understood, as much as grade-schoolers could, the more positive, but challenging, things that were happening in America 50 years ago. So we discussed the Civil Rights movement.
We were lucky in that in my small West Texas hometown, there was no formal segregation. All of us kids went to the same schools, my parents' colleagues at work were of different races, public facilities were open to everyone.
That's not to say where I grew up was perfect. And my folks wanted us to know it wasn't perfect, that the larger world was even less perfect and that one day we would discover that in person.
But my folks also made sure my brother and I understood that we could help make things better. They pointed out that being a decent human and following the Biblical Golden Rule was one of the best ways to live our lives as we grew up and moved beyond and forward.
I think of my parents especially fondly on days like today. Not only is it the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but it is the inauguration of our president.
That these two events -- Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech and the swearing in for the second time of Barack Obama, America's first African-American president -- happened 50 years apart is a testament to how much our country has grown in just my lifetime. A Latina Supreme Court justice was part of the Inauguration. The crowd on the Mall was full of faces representing the diversity, ethnically and gender wise, and strength of our country.
Things my parents told me were important and true are on full display today. Thanks, Mom and Dad. You were, and are, right!
Remembering and keeping the dream: Dr. King delivered his "I have a dream" speech on Aug. 28, 1963, from the Lincoln Memorial, at the other end of the Mall from the Capitol where Obama was sworn in today.
It was just one part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march was a vital factor in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Obama's second inaugural speech borrowed some of Dr. King's language, but he started by quoting the Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
The challenge -- the "never-ending journey," as the president characterized it, is "to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time."
"For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed." ...
"We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth."
Sounds like a lesson a lot of today's parents will be sharing with their kids.