Earlier this month, we put out a call for stories from readers who participated in the 1963 March on Washington or any of the anniversary marches. With some assistance spreading the word from the Advancement Project and the Civil Rights Movement Veterans, we received a number of compelling responses, most of which were from people who attended—or even helped organize—the iconic 1963 march. Below are highlights from our readers’ stories. We encourage you to add your own in our comment section.
I was just 17 when my mom was working with CORE and I was swept up into the goings-on. At the march I was amazed at all the people who were there and I felt safe. MLK was inspiring and Bayard Rustin was elevating us to commit to working to make the Dream a realization. MLK called on us to hold America accountable for the promissory note that is the Constitution. He urged us to go back to our communities and continue the work.
In the summer of 1963, I had just graduated from the University of Maryland and begun work for the federal government (former Civil Service Commission; now OPM) in Washington. A few friends and I decided to attend the march because we felt a strong commitment to civil rights. Rumors swirled that the Klan might cause trouble, but we were undeterred. It was a terribly hot, humid day. After the performances on the grounds of the Washington Monument, we began the march to the Lincoln Memorial. It was stirring to be part of such a massive, peaceful crowd. Many carried signs, and we then realized that so many had come so far to join the march. Many sang as we walked; it was an amazing moment. Once at the memorial, our little group made our way to stand in the shade under massive trees to the right of the memorial near the Reflecting Pool. But, in truth, we never heard the stirring speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The excitement of the day, together with the searing heat and enervating humidity, had finally taken their toll. By the time Dr. King began to speak, we were watching him on TV in an air-conditioned apartment.
Yes, I was there. I marched. Although it didn’t feel like a march, with its militaristic connotations. It felt like a gathering of souls with a common purpose, bound together in sorrow for the long history of slavery and injustice and for the recent tragic killings of Medgar Evers and the schoolgirls in Alabama. But we were also bound together in righteousness and hope for change that was palpable as we walked together, black and white, with raised placards, holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome.” I was with a group from CORE, New York City. We were in the back near the end of the pond and couldn’t see the speakers, but the voices of John Lewis and others, and then Martin Luther King Jr. spoke truth to power and to our hearts and minds. Imagine such a sea of people all listening in profound silence as they did. The silence itself and the words of those great souls over the loudspeaker will forever remain in Washington, DC, and the world as a reminder of our better angels and the true purpose of our democracy.
“I might not even have gone…”
I might not even have gone to the March on Washington if it hadn’t been for a college boyfriend who came to town along with a friend of his. I’d already signed up to help out at one of the churches that were hosting busloads of people coming to participate, but I was uncertain about participating myself. One reason was the incessant talk of possible violence that had prompted federal officials to give employees the day off. Also, I wasn’t sure whether white people (like the three of us) would be welcome. The White House seemed ambivalent about the event, providing no public support.