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March on Washington

The question swirling around for a week in August was where were you during the March on Washington in 1963? I recalled my desire to go but my mother told me I had too much Malcolm X on my brain as images of Emmett Till came to her mind. She had already heard of the expected violence and knew I would not turn a cheek. On that day I played stickball until hearing my name called with a sense of urgency to get in the house. Martin Luther King was delivering his speech, but her focus was on Detective Charles Jackson, our friendly policemen from Jersey City standing to Reverend King’s right. He was leader of King’s security force someone we actually were acquainted. I remember we focused more on him and wondered why he eyes looked to the skies. Later he would say that two clouds had created a cross in the sky.

For the 20th anniversary of the March I had moved to Washington and participated. I was at “Redeem the Dream” in 2001 and put on an exhibition “Dreamer of Dreams” in 2003. Now I was again celebrating the March on Washington its 50th anniversary.

The Newseum on August 2 open an exhibition “Make Some Noise” about students and the civil right movement. It is a must see exhibition giving a great insight in the student efforts during that historic period.

August 22 the Newseum presented Reverend Bernice King and Simeon Booker. The National Council of Negro Women presented Dr. King with the Dr. Dorothy I. Height Racial Justice Award, in her acceptance speech she spoke very highly of parents and their contributions to racial equality and their effects upon her. Simeon Booker, 95 year old former journalist who wrote for the Johnson Publications of Chicago and was first Black reporter for the Washington Post, was interviewed by Joe Madison about his career and ordeals as Black journalist covering the Civil Rights Movement, they were also joined on stage with Mrs. Booker and Ernest Green of the Little Rock Nine. People will always remember the coverage of the murder of Emmett Till.

On August 23 the U.S. Postal commemorated the 50th anniversary of the August 28tn 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom by unveiling a limited edition stamp. At the unveiling were Gabrielle Union and the Honorable Congressman John Lewis. John Lewis said “I’m more than lucky. I am very blessed to come here and see the unveiling of this beautiful stamp.”  Ms. Union spoke of her parents in 1963, she explained, her father was in Italy serving in the military and her grandmother prohibited her mother from taking part in protests, fearing she would lose her job. Her father was allowed to watch the March but could not display any emotion. “Both of my parents were silenced at a time when they wanted to be demonstrative in their feelings and in their opinions,” Union said. “My father by the military brass and my mother by a much scarier entity — my grandma.”

The main event, which was sponsored by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Martin Luther King III and the NAACP, featured speakers, including King, Sharpton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. They spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where 50 years ago King delivered his speech which would become known as “I Have a Dream” It was said that his advisors did not want him to deliver that speech but then Mahalia Jackson said to him during his “tell ‘em about the dream, Martin” then the words began “I still have a dream” and the rest is history.

There were numerous events surrounding the 50th anniversary, a film screening, featuring Ambassador Andrew J. Young in conversation with Dr. J.C. Hayward the film “1963: Raising the Conscience of a Nation” produced by the Andrew Young Foundation. The film was based on the civil rights movement in Birmingham Alabama and should the shop contrast between the methods of Martin Luther King and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth of the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young girls lost their life not about 18 days after the March on Washington in 1963. Rev. Shuttlesworth had a battlefield mentality and always told Martin that a good speech did not make for good actions.

At the 50th anniversary March I meet a woman Edith Payne who had come to the March in 1963 on her 12th birthday and to relive it she brought two of her eight grandchildren. She spoke of how earlier that year her mother heard King deliver a similar speech in Detroit which inspired her to come to Washington. She spoke about her return home and her mother asking her to ride a report of what she did in the summer of 1963. She wrote the report and gathered it with a banner and photos as a keepsake. Their home was to catch fire one day and many things were destroyed except for that banner that had smoke damaged and she had brought and paraded it around for the 50th anniversary. She also said that she would have her granddaughters write a report and hopefully return for the centennial of the speech.

Her story does not end there, she also talked of getting a phone call from a cousin who had seen her photo on a Black History calendar in 2009. Edith searched the internet and found the picture and began her research into the origins of her photo at the 1963 March on Washington. Finally finding the photo and all the information at the National Archives and it was taken by Rowland Scherman who was a government photographer. Rowland himself recalled the intense look on the young girls face and rediscover the photo when a film was being produced about him and he had to research his works. Many of us have seen the photo that will adorn the cover of a book “Timeless” because Edith is the poster child of the March of 1963.


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