Thirman L. Milner was at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, one of the multitude listening to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. tell America, "I have a dream."
Exactly 45 years later, a congressman's intervention will give Milner and Carrie Saxon Perry, the first two black mayors of Hartford, a chance to see that dream come alive in Barack Obama.
John B. Larson, D-1st District, is flying the two iconic politicians to Denver and giving them his VIP seats at Invesco Field, where Obama will accept the Democratic nomination for president Thursday.
While they sit with members of Congress in Denver, Larson will return to Hartford to host a celebration at the Artists Collective, a black cultural institution in the city's North End.
Larson decided more than a month ago that he wanted to give his seats to Milner and Perry, but he delayed the invitation until House ethics officials confirmed that he could make a gift of his tickets, said his spokesman, Paul Mounds.
Milner, whose election as mayor in 1981 marked a political coming of age for African Americans in Connecticut, said seeing an African American nominated as president always seemed a distant dream.
"I never thought in my lifetime I'd see this happen," Milner said. "To me, this is really a climax of a lot of the struggles people are going through in the United States."
In 1981, Milner narrowly lost a primary marred by voting irregularities, went to court to force a new primary and handily won the rematch, clearing the way for him to become the first popularly elected black mayor in the Northeast.
Milner, who turns 75 in October and has had prostate cancer for more than a decade, said the invitation from Larson was a shock.
"It came out of the blue," Milner said.
Perry, who turns 77 on Saturday, thought her call was a prank.
"I told my son, 'Somebody is pulling my leg.' I'm nuts about Barack. I had been to Pennsylvania canvassing for him," Perry said.
She was assured the invitation was real.
On Wednesday morning, Milner will set aside his nervousness about flying and board a plane with Perry, an ally from the 1981 struggle who succeeded him as mayor in 1987.
"It's probably my last trip anywhere," Milner said.
He's outlived two of the doctors who told him long ago he would succumb to prostate cancer.
On Thursday night, he'll applaud Obama and think about where he was 45 years ago, listening to a preacher talk about a dream.
Contact Mark Pazniokas at email@example.com.