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Whitmore Park plaque to remember those who marched on Washington in 1963

She stood with her husband, peanut butter sandwiches and homemade signs in hand, at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, and she was mesmerized as she listened to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech.

"His was the speech that was important to me. There had been a lot said about him and that he was going to be a leader. Just listening to him, his manner of delivery, you knew it was important," said Hannah Chambers of Annapolis.

That day, she didn't realize just how crucial the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was. She was among 250,000 participants at the historic event.

"I just was one of those fortunate people who was standing right under where our guest speakers were standing," said Chambers, a retired teacher and wife of the late John Chambers, a former Annapolis alderman and mayor.

She'd spent half the summer helping to organize a contingent of Annapolis residents who'd be boarding a bus for the demonstration, making sure neighbors knew to bring water but not children, and understood that this was to be a peaceful demonstration.

This summer, on the 50th anniversary of the march that is credited with helping ensure the passage of federal civil rights and voting rights laws, those who took part in it will be remembered with a plaque in Annapolis listing names of some participants.

"No matter how eloquent Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was, it was all those people that were there to hear him that made the difference," said Carl O. Snowden, chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, which is creating the plaque at an expected cost of $20,000.

It is to be unveiled Aug. 28 at Whitmore Park, the area where Chambers and others boarded the bus that took them to Washington. The park is Anne Arundel County property leased by the city.

Snowden said he thinks this is the first memorial to the march's rank and file, many of whom have died in intervening half-century.

The committee, with Snowden leading the effort, previously erected memorials in Anne Arundel County for King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, also funded by donations. A longtime civil rights activist, Snowden left his position as director of the office of civil rights in the state attorney general's office in January after high-profile drunken-driving and marijuana possession convictions, but he has remained active in civil rights.

The 1963 march has been recalled as the largest demonstration in Washington until that time.

"We saw it as an opportunity to be involved in making a change and making a difference in the way we were being treated at the time," said Ray Langston of Highland Beach. He's a former mayor, now a commissioner, of the tiny waterfront town, which was founded by African-Americans, and he often summered there while growing up in Washington.

"It was probably the single most important occasion in the civil rights movement. It really changed the face of the way society really saw African-Americans," Langston said.

Marc Apter, a resident of Arundel on the Bay, recalled that his late father, David Apter, quit his public relations job in Washington to handle public relations for the march, after his employer turned down his request for a leave of absence.

"People said, 'Are you crazy?' He had three kids and a wife," said Apter, who grew up in Washington. "It was a kind of personal risk involved," he said, noting fears that the demonstration would turn violent.

He said his father, who in his later years lived in Annapolis, put him to work at the event.

"My dad gave me the fun job of being a runner between the press tent at the base of the Lincoln Memorial and the speakers podium at the top of the Lincoln Memorial," Apter recalled. "And my father would tell me stories later about how all the speakers were supposed to hold to 10 or 15 minutes, and he was given the job of telling them when to stop. In theory, he should have cut off Martin Luther King Jr., but he had the good sense not to do that."

Apter was a teenager at the time. "I was probably more enthralled that I was rubbing shoulders with singers like Joan Baez than with King," he said.

Apter, also in public relations, has created an online donation site for the plaque.

Snowden said the organization plans to launch a Facebook page, where people can share first-person accounts about the march where they "witnessed history being made."

People can submit names for the plaque by calling 410-269-1524 or emailing carl_snowden@hotmail.com by May 19. Online donations for the plaque may be made at Igg.me/at/mlk-annapolis.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

twitter.com/andsiegel

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