Sunday, January 18, 2009

August 28th 1963... Civil Rights March on Washington DC

I took the day off from work.

I was a high school student in North Bend Oregon and I had a summer job as a "stock boy" at the Coos Bay Sprouse Reitz variety store. In junior high and high school I had the same job every summer and two hours on weekdays after school during the school year and all day on Saturday. My dad had to get a waiver from the Oregon Labor Department so I could work while in junior high. My parents wanted to teach me a work ethic. I earned minimum wage which my parents told my boss was too much.

Prior to August 28, 1963 I had made arrangements with my boss to get that day off so I could stay home and watch on TV the civil rights march on Washington DC

In the years prior to "The March" I had watched with horror the television news stories from the South. It was the years of the freedom riders, the lunch counter "sit-ins" and church burnings as Black and White Americans attempted to end segregation in the South. I could not believe that all American could not sit at a lunch counter in a variety store all over America.

Wikipedia describes the March on Washington as follows:

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a large political rally that took place in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech advocating racial harmony at the Lincoln Memorial during the march....Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 (police) to over 300,000 (leaders of the march). About 80% of the marchers were African American and 20% white and other ethnic groups.....Musician Bob Dylan performed several songs, including "Only a Pawn in Their Game," about the culturally-fed racial hatred amongst Southern whites that led to the assassination of Medgar Evers; and "When the Ship Comes In," during which he was joined by fellow folk singer Joan Baez.

I wish I could say I remember watching Dylan but I don't... but I remember an interview with the actress Lena Horne at the Lincoln Memorial. She had tears in her eyes in joy for the event.

I of course remember Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech." He started out by saying:
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity......

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.....

He then talked about something I would not realize the true meaning of until the years to come:

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

He then spoke the words I will never forget:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Maybe this week we have taken a giant step in that direction:

To read the entire speech click on the title for a link.

After August 28th 1963 things changed but we didn't know it then.