While vacationing in my house, Dr. King was working on a new book. Periodically, Stanley and I would come up and visit him, and we would talk about the March on Washington. As the date got closer, we actually talked about what he should say; the content of the speech. It was the subject of a lot of discussion.
After he checked into a suite at the Willard hotel [in Washington, D.C.] with Coretta, a group of us gathered in the lobby the evening before the march, and he came down and spent about an hour with us, again discussing what he might say the next day.
I remember, distinctly, Ralph Abernathy saying, “You know Martin, these people are coming from all over the country, and they want to hear you preach.” Cleveland Robinson, an African-American labor leader from the Caribbean, said, “No, they don’t want to go to church. They need some political leadership.”
So back and forth. I took notes of what people said. At one point, Martin said, “Clarence, why don’t you go upstairs to your room, summarize all this, and come back and present it to us,” which is what I did. But because I had been talking with him several days before the march, I already knew the substance of the kinds of things he wanted to say.
In the limited amount of time he had available, I drafted on some yellow sheets of paper a summary, about six or seven suggested paragraphs that he might consider using in his speech. What I prepared wasn’t new. It was a summary of all the ideas we had already discussed. I just put them in suggested language that was good for oration — that would reflect things he and I and Stanley Levison had previously discussed.
Because I had this experience in April of going to the Chase Manhattan Bank to get cash to bail out some kids in Birmingham [who had participated in demonstrations led by Dr. King], in the draft I included the idea of a promissory note. We’re coming here after the Emancipation Proclamation, after all this time, to redeem a note from the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Everybody is still accountable to that. We refused to believe that the vaults of justice in our nation didn’t have sufficient funds to honor payment of this note.