March On Washington (1963)
Patrice was only 6 months old when the March on Washington took place. We decided it could be too dangerous to
take him so he stayed with an Uncle and Aunt of Bill's in Brooklyn. I traveled the day before the march in an old
station wagon full of people among whom was Shaune, my sister-in-law and ten year old Renee, my niece. My brother
hitch-hiked down with a friend. We never did meet up with them!
It was a long hot drive from New York to Washington D.C. We spent a restless night in Levittown outside the city
on someone's floor in a house belonging to a friend of a friend. Excitement and nervousness was mounting. Many
of us talked most of the night. Few slept. The rumors had been rampant for weeks that we might run into mobs of
hostile demonstrators, the Ku Klux Klan, for sure. We hoped the Washington D.C. police were willing and able up
to protect us.
On the day of the march we drove into the city and the closer we came to the mall the more people we saw riding
and walking in the same direction. People who lived on the side streets seemed all to be Black. They watched us
from their open windows or sat on their porches, waving to us and yelling "Bless you" and "Good
Luck" and good encouraging things like that. Then we saw the Reflecting pool with the huge Lincoln memorial
at the far end. By that time we had parked and were joining the growing crowd walking to get as close as we could
to where the speakers would be.
Thousands of people had already gathered before us and were waving their signs. Some just said what group they
represented like different unions, churches, schools. Others were slogans like "Freedom Now" and "Down
with Segregation" or "We Shall Overcome". In small groups some people were singing, others were
hugging each other; all colors, all different types of people gathered for the same purpose: to demonstrate to
the government and the people of the country that we wanted equal rights for all citizens of the country.
The people kept coming. I'd never seen so many people in one place before. It grew amazingly quiet as people on
the podium sang or spoke about civil rights. We found a place to settle down on the grass under a tree. We had
our lunches with us. The feeling of love and peace was apparent as strangers smiled at strangers, greeted each
other, made room for each other and joined hands for some of the songs. You can find in the history books all the
speakers who spoke that day, and all the entertainers who sang or quoted poems or pleaded the cause of civil rights
to the hopefully listening congressmen on Capitol Hill. Many of the demonstrators listened with their bare feet
dangling in the reflecting pool. We couldn't get close enough. It looked so inviting. The steamy heat didn't dampen
the enthusiasm of the crowd, though, when a particularly good speech was made or a rousing song was sung.
The FBI took pictures the whole time. Sometimes they were sitting up in trees watching us! The films they show
every year now on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday were probably taken by the FBI! The newsmen were there too,
of course, probably looking for signs of violence. But there was no violence that day that I was aware of. The
rumors were probably started by racists to discourage people from showing up. It didn't work. The sheer numbers
of people probably discouraged those who may have had any thought of trouble.
By the time Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to the podium to give his now famous "I Have a Dream" speech
it had been a very long very hot day. We had been singing and cheering and clapping so long we were really tired.
It was clear that things were coming to a close. People were beginning to gather their belongings and fold the
blankets they sat on. We worried about finding our car and being able to get out of the city with this huge crowd
of people all headed the same way. So we gathered up our things and started walking the 6 or 8 blocks to where
we had parked.
On the way we heard Reverend King's voice on the many loud speakers throughout the mall area and from the radios
and television sets blaring from open windows of the apartments we passed. If we had known how significant and
how famous that speech would become we would not have walked away. But that is hindsight. I always feel a small
pang of regret when I see old films of that August day in 1963. I also look to see if I can spot any of us in the
enormous crowd. So far, no luck. Maybe next year on Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday!
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