Jerry Fisher, Washington, DC

I was there: newly arrived in Washington fresh out of Chapel Hill graduation, my office was at 12th & E Streets NW. A new friend, Mary Storm (from Frederick MD), and I casually joined the scads of people heading to the Mall and we spent hours there that day.

The “marchers” seemed almost serene in their demeanor and all were pleasant to Mary and me. The majority of the crowd was overwhelmingly black, and Mary & I were decidedly white. Never was there any discomfort in my being there. In fact, it was exhilarating and profound to be at what I had already realized was truly an historic event.

We were far back from the Lincoln Memorial, so Dr. King’s “I had a dream” speech was a bit removed from our vantage point, which was a drawback indeed.

I had been in earlier sit-ins as a student at UNC, but this crowd was totally different – not “confrontational”, not belligerent, not even “angry”. No, the crowd seemed simply happy to be at this destination. I am so grateful that I was there! Again, all I wanted was to be counted as a sincere devotee of civil rights for all. This opportunity was heaven-sent to do so – on a grand scale.

Submitted: February 11, 2013

Lucia Hatch, Washington, DC

I did attend the 1963 March on Washington. I went on a chartered bus from Princeton, NJ, where I was living at the time, leaving early in the morning. One of the most thrilling sights I have ever witnessed was to see the hundreds and hundreds of buses on the New Jersey Turnpike, all clearly going to the same place. Our group ended up on the Mall about a third of the way down from the Lincoln Memorial. I was so sleepy (from getting up so early) that I really didn’t “get” the import of all the words, but was happy just to be in the crowd (just like the 2009 Obama inauguration).

After the March, a bunch of us in Princeton founded a group we called “The Princeton Freedom Center,” which I ended up directing. That winter and spring, we recruited 14 Princeton students (undergrads and graduate students) for the 1964 Mississippi Summer. The organizers ran two one-week orientation sessions for the volunteers in Oxford, Ohio. I attended the first, to see what my volunteers were going to be doing—and found I was the only one there who wasn’t being assigned a spot in Mississippi. (I didn’t go because I was a single mother of a four-year-old.) During my orientation week I was asked to join the staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and ran their New Jersey office until the next spring. At that point I moved back to Washington (my hometown) to work in the local SNCC office, whose director at the time was Marion Barry. I left SNCC that November (before the Black Power Movement would have kicked me out).

Submitted: February 13, 2013

Rosetta Brooks, Artistic Director of St. Mark’s Dance Studio/Companies, Washington, DC

MY THOUGHTS ON THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON, DC
MARTIN LUTHER KING . . . MARCH, 1963

I was a junior attending Dunbar High School (graduated in 1964).

There was a group of us who decided to go down to the Lincoln Memorial that day because it was something to do.

It turned out to be one of the most memorable things that I’ve done in my lifetime.

I have to speak of my parents . . . the late Mr. & Mrs. Joseph H. Whalen.

My parents were so ahead of themselves for they spoke of the same things that were in Dr. King’s speech. Civil Rights is not about the color of your skin for it goes further than that . . . it’s “Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you.”

I’ve always consider myself not just a Black American but several other things . . . a “Mutt”, female, artist.

Let me explain . . . (Mutt) my parents made a very conscious effort to let me know my entire heritage, which is Native American, Black Irish, German and most important an American Black.

I was in awe as Dr. King spoke, although we were a long distance away. You didn’t have to be up close. You felt the moment as the electricity flowed from person to person.

I looked around the crowd and there was excitement but there was also a sense of peace on the faces of everyone, a sense of purpose.

Strangers held hands, hugged because there was this single purpose. We were all there at first out of curiosity but we all realized that it went further than that.

I don’t think I truly realize the impact that day had on me until years later.

Being 16 years one doesn’t necessary understand the depth that a moment is going to mean to you.

As I went on to graduate from Dunbar High School and attend Howard University . . . I was introduced to the late Mary Craighill through a friend (George Faison).

Mary Craighill was the director of St. Mark’s Dance Studio / Company.

She choreographed a piece about interracial feelings and it premiered during the riots in Washington, DC after the assassination of Dr. King.

The piece was choreographed before the assassination but ended up being so profoundly right for the moment. It seemed like it was done on purpose. The performance was felt by all whom saw it; especially those of us who were on stage . . . the tears flowed heavily.

It was a way of stating that we are the same in the eyes of God.

That day on the mall has impacted my own choreography in a lot of ways.

I work with a group of young dancers and I’m always saying that through them I hope to show how we must be one, we must respect everyone.

I’m always talking about being a “care taker” . . . we all need to be care takers. Care takers in the sense of doing the right thing by everyone . . . not just the privilege few but every mankind / womankind.

Doctor King’s speak showed me what my parents meant by “do unto others as they do unto you”.

I’ve also been shown how things go full circle. My daughter did a “Black History” report on Doctor King’s speak; when she was in the 6th grade. I had at that time an old cassette recording of it. She very impressed with what he said. She is now 44 years old.

His speak will never be stale for as long as there are prejudices his words will ring out loudly.

Let’s hope that one day the words will run stale as mankind gives respect to all.

Submitted: February 11, 2013

Daniel R. Smith, Washington, DC

Reflections on Participating in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s August
28, 1963 March on Washington

Thank you for the opportunity to share some of my Civil Rights
experiences with a larger community, especially my first direct
experience with the Civil Rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr.

By way of background, I was born in Winsted, Connecticut, a town with
a population of about 10,000 of which only about 20 were Black. My
father, Abram Smith, was born a baby slave in Virginia in 1862. He was
70 years old when I was born; he died in a car accident when I was age
6. My mother, Clara Wheeler Smith, had been a young bride. A domestic
worker, she raised 8 children plus other foster children. We were very
poor.

Nevertheless, I attended and graduated from the only privately run
public school, Gilbert High School in Winsted, from which I graduated
in 1952. I was the only Black student in the school at the time. David
Halberstam and Ralph Nader were classmates. Although Connecticut was
traditionally a liberal state, with abolitionist leaders dating to the
1800s (John Brown was from nearby Torrington CT), as a boy and a young
man, I still faced discrimination socially and in housing as well as
the prejudice and stereotypes of the time.

After graduation, I was drafted into the US Army during the Korean
War. I served as a medic/operating room technician and scrub nurse in
the Army’s medical corps and also as a Red Cross Swimming Instructor
at the 121st Evacuation Hospital in Seoul, Korea. President Truman
integrated, by Executive Order, integration of the military in 1948.
While I did face some racial animosity, my experience in the Army was
very positive.

At the end of the war, I returned to attend Springfield College,
Mass., and graduated with a BS degree in general studies with minors
in sociology and psychology. During my four years at Springfield, the
Civil Rights movement was in progress, with Rosa Parks laying the
foundation in 1955 for the future Alabama Bus Boycott with Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr.’s leadership.

Following graduation from Springfield College, I accepted a position
at Norwich State Hospital A 3000 bed state mental institution, where I
was a social worker covering the geriatric unit and the maximum
security ward in the Salmon Building. It was there that I met Barry
Fritz, a Jewish psychologist and Civil Rights advocate from New York
doing graduate study for his PhD. We worked together along with other
young male and female interns and residents from other states and
countries in a co-ed, integrated professional housing complex. Along
with others in that group, we often after work spent time discussing
the pro’s and con’s of life in the United States and the impact of
full racial integration on American society.

When Dr. King’s planned March on Washington became a topic of
discussion in the early summer of 1963. Our discussions centered
around three key issues:
(1) The purpose of the march and what it would accomplish;
(2) Safety and medical attention for participants who might be
involved in riots during the march.
(3) Whether Civil Rights was a problem for the South to solve and was
not a Connecticut or northern or national problem.

As the march date drew closer to August, Barry Fritz and I debated
our going to Washington to participate in it. Most of our professional
colleagues thought we were “nuts” to go and put ourselves in
harm’s way. Finally, it was Barry who convinced me that he and I
should journey to Washington DC to show our support for Dr. King and
the Civil Rights Movement.

We used Barry’s car for the eight-hour trip south. We were filled
with anxiety the closer we got to DC. We entered the nation’s
capital via New York Avenue. Much to our surprise, we were met by a
white motorcycle police officer who was extremely polite, professional
and helpful. He acted as an escort, and we followed him to a white
home. We were told that the owners were members of the Student
Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) headed by John Lewis (now
Congressman from Georgia) or the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference (SCLC). (I don’t recall which.)

I remember distinctly asking our hosts if the DC restaurants and
hotels were segregated or open for all, and they assured us that they
were. They invited us to spend the night in their attic, which we did
with about 20 other marchers from all over the country, using sleeping
bags and floor mats on a nice oak floor. We were provided doughnuts,
coffee and orange juice the next morning.

I don’t remember how far our housing was from the Lincoln Memorial,
but I do recall how the street simply filled up with orderly,
well-dressed black and white marchers. Walking with the packed crowd
past the Washington Monument, it took Barry and me about two hours to
reach the Reflecting Pool at the base of the Lincoln Memorial. Along
the way, a newspaper reporter asked one of our marchers, “What do
the Negros want?” The reply was “Equal rights under the law – no
more, no less.”

As one who considered himself a group dynamics expert and organizer,
I marveled at the size of the crowd and the unity of expressed
purpose. I had witnessed great crowds and crowd control while serving
in the military, but this was just a mass of people of all races,
genders and religions singing “We Shall Overcome” and marching
with determined faces, yet in a “festive” mode. There were women
pushing infants in baby carriages and fathers with children on their
shoulders. There were nuns, priests and rabbis, men in military
uniforms, youth dressed in boy scout uniforms, and union members
passing out literature and pins.

In short, the Reflecting Pool was surrounded by a living sea of
humanity, all trying to get closer to the Lincoln Memorial to see and
hear Dr. King speak. Some people perched in trees, others waded into
the pool, while others sat and dangled their feet to cool them from
the hot pavement. Barry and I worked our way through the crowd, to
almost within 100 feet of the podium at the end of the Reflecting Pool
where Dr. King was to speak. (Facing the Lincoln Memorial we were on
the left side.)

There was a “buzz” in the crowd because of John Lewis, who was
considered a “firebrand” because he was using stronger, more
inflammatory language in his speech than the march leaders felt
appropriate for the event. Because of this, there was even a question
of whether John Lewis would be allowed to address the marchers. He
subsequently spoke, however, and received strong applause.

The other crowd “buzz” was whether President Kennedy would appear
and address the marchers. He did not. (Indeed, Barry and I had
predicted that he would not come because of security reasons.) But we
all were thrilled when Mahalia Jackson, one of the most noted gospel
singers of the time, sang one of her classic songs, “Take My Hand,
Precious Lord.”

Of course, there were many other speakers. But the one we all waited
for was Dr. King, who came on the stage in mid afternoon and delivered
his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech. We were all transfixed.

There was an amusing moment too, when Dr. King spoke of having a
dream of little black boys and girls walking hand in hand together
with little white boys and white girls. Barry jokingly said, “Do you
think maybe Dr. King has gone too far?” I just laughed. (I already
knew that day was here.)

We all joined in great applause afterwards. Many around us – Barry
and I too – had tears in our eyes. Afterwards, it ended with all of us
once again, singing, “We Shall Overcome.”

Barry and I drove back to Connecticut fulfilled. We understood that
we had been involved in a truly historical American event, one that
included all races and was not mired in riots but was, in fact,
peaceful in all respects.

Postscript:

Subsequently, I moved to Alabama and became a student at Tuskegee
Institute School of Veterinary Medicine but left to work in the Civil
Rights Movement. I served as associate director of Tuskegee’s Summer
Education Program (serving disadvantaged students in 12 counties of
rural Alabama). I later became the executive director in Lowndes
County, Alabama, of a Sargent Shriver anti-poverty program battling
Governor George Wallace and nearly lost my life by the Ku Klux Klan.
(Lowndes County was the actual home of the Black Panther Party, where
Viola Liuzzo, a white Civil Rights worker from Detroit, was shot and
killed by the KKK.)

Dr. King’s words continued to inspire me, and I walked with him on
another march, the one from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. I
subsequently came to Washington DC and accepted a position in federal
government in the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO).

Barry Fritz went on to finish his PhD and, at my suggestion, came to
Alabama to work as the evaluation director at the Tuskegee
Institute’s Summer Education Program (TISEP). He became a prominent
professor of psychology at Connecticut’s Quinnipiac College. He died
in 2004.

Submitted: February 6, 2013

Henry Maury, Washington, DC

I didn’t see or hear much, because we ended up far back and off to the side, where Constitution Gardens is now. I do remember hearing Joan Baez’s voice carrying over the crowd, and I may have also heard Dr. King’s voice, though not well enough to make out his words.

I was 15 years old, part of a group from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bethesda, where I had attended church regularly until about age 13. I don’t remember how we got to the Mall — a bus, I suppose.

I still have the sign I carried, calling for jobs.

Submitted: January 22, 2013

Robert Mobley, Great Falls, VA

It was sunny and very hot that day in late August. I had recently turned 25 and wanted to join King’s March on Washington but wondered if I would be able to leave work that day. In my downtown office a small group were already making plans to march and off we went.

My friend Donald and I joined King’s March on Constitution Avenue as it approached the Lincoln Memorial. Folks began to disburse and find their special place as near the Reflecting Pool as they could crowd. We stayed under the nearby trees which provided some shade and a bit of coolness. Folks kept coming and coming and coming until soon I lost my friend, the only other white face I could see in the crowd as it became more and more tight until it was so crowded I was unable to lift my arms. I could feel panic rising in my throat and wondered if it was claustrophobia or fear of being the only white I could see and wondered if any one nearby knew I was a white boy raised in the south who had quietly witnessed so much racism from the safety inside my white skin… then suddenly I was adjacent to a tree and began to relax and could hear the speeches beginning.

The sound system in those cool trees was weak. I could only catch parts of Dr. King’s inspiring speech and couldn’t wait until I could hear and see it again that evening on the news. When all the speeches were over, I and so many around me gradually left, smiling and laughing, so obviously joyful to have been a small part of Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington. That day, when Dr. King inspired millions of people, I learned a bit about myself.

In January 2009, as my grandson and I stood on the freezing National Mall looking toward the US Capitol, waiting for the historic Inauguration to begin, I turned toward the Lincoln Memorial and showed my grandson where I had stood 46 years ago.

Submitted: January 15, 2013

Olga Stopher, Washington, DC

My husband and I were young hippies living at Washington Circle. The word was out that this would be a day of violence, but we didn’t believe it. I saw young women protesting in front of the Justice Dept. for civil rights. We arrived at the Mall in the morning, heard some music and soaked in the spirit of real hope. We marched to the Lincoln Memorial, and could actually see Dr. King.

This was probably the lowest crime day in the history of DC. It seemed the whole crowd was caught up in inspiration and joy. This was pre t-shirt era or I would have certainly had one even if it cost me my last dime.

Submitted: January 12, 2013

Luis Granados, Ocean City, MD

I worked at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture in D.C., and when I arrived that day, I found that only one other person in my division had showed up for work. People were apparently afraid there might be riots, so stayed home.

The one other person who showed was our photographer. (I was Director of an Information Division, and have been retired since 1983.) Since there was no chance that any work would get done, Bart suggested we take some pictures of the marchers.

We walked up from USDA and were surprised to discover that everyone was in a joyous mood, singing and clapping their hands. We decided to join them, and sang and clapped along with the rest. When we reached the Reflecting Pool, Bart said, “That was fun, why don’t we go back a few blocks and do it again?” We did, and this time were able to push our way nearly to the front of the crowd. Bart had a big camera bag over his shoulder, so I suppose people thought we were part of the press.

When Martin Luther King made his speech we were standing on the bottom step of the Lincoln Memorial.

It was quite an uplifting experience, and not at all the way people had expected it to be.

Submitted: January 10, 2013

Mark Weinheimer, Washington, DC

I was a high school student in Philadelphia, and active in progressive politics. Our organization got word of the planning for the March, and quickly chartered a bus to travel to Washington. Most on the bus were adults, but there was a group of us students as well.

Of course, my parents at first didn’t want me to make the trip, since there were all sorts of rumors that violence would break out. I don’t remember any more how I did it, but I persuaded them that we would all be safe.

Our group sat near the northwest corner of the reflecting pool, looking up at the Memorial. It was hot, but we had some shade. We tried to listen to everyone, but of course eventually our interest waned. Until, that is, Martin Luther King started to speak. We immediately knew this was a special speech, and loved it.

On our return trip, I remember stopping for refreshments at a roadside place in either Maryland or Delaware. It didn’t want to serve the African Americans in our group, and so we had our own little demonstration until we all got served.

Submitted: January 9, 2013

Jane Barrow, Fredericksburg, VA

I was a resident of Chevy Chase, MD, and attending American University. Sheila Lynch, former neighbor, and I joined the march after a morning of horse backriding. I had so wanted to attend but there was a lot of publicity in the DC papers indicating that it would not be a good idea to attend due to possible violence. My father discouraged me from attending too out of concern for my safety. So when Sheila suggested that we go march, that was all the encouragement that I needed. We did indeed march in the parade but we never got to the Lincoln Memorial. The march was peaceful. We marched for about 1 hour. As I recall, Sheila and I were the only two white girls that we saw while marching.

Later that evening, I attended a Peter, Paul and Mary Concert at Carter Baron, it was a WOW performance.

I am so glad that I marched in that parade. Such an honor and such a wonderful memory.

In 1974, I had the opportunity to select the birthdate of my daughter. She was born on January 15th, 1974.

Submitted: January 9, 2013