Members of the Carroll County chapter of the NAACP joined tens of thousands Saturday at the National Mall - at the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial - in Washington to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the August 28, 1963 March on Washington.
It was at that time in the early 1960s that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) made "I have a dream" the clarion call of the civil rights movement at a political rally called the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
History continues to reflect upon the importance of the march on Washington in 1963. One thing remains certain: It was a pivotal moment in American history that has contributed greatly to who we are as a nation today.
King’s 17-minute speech that day is reported to have been scheduled to take only a four-minute time slot that no other speaker wanted to fill because it was feared that the news crews would have left the event by then.
Some historians believe that the original title of the speech was “Normalcy, Never Again.” Other accounts say it was called “A cancelled check.” Whatever the title, the original draft never included the words, “I have a dream.”
It has also been said that 12 hours before he was to take the stage to deliver a speech that propelled him into history, prompted Time magazine to name him the 1963 Man of the Year, facilitated passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and win the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize - - King had no idea what to say and had not even written his speech. A speech he didn’t use once he began his speech.
It is widely reported that after King began his remarks that day in front of an estimated 200,000; it was one of the music performers, Mahalia Jackson urged him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” At that point, he winged it and started preaching, “I have a dream.”
On Saturday, as we emerged from the subway station and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to Constitution Avenue over to the Reflecting Pool, John Lewis, past Carroll County NAACP president, 2003-2004, said that attending the march in 1963, “was one of the greatest days of my life.”
That is saying a lot from a man with pages of credentials and accomplishments in a celebrated life of achievement and community leadership.
We were then interrupted by Eric Holder – and then Rep. John Lewis beginning their speeches. Other speakers included, Julian Bond, Martin Luther King III, Cory Booker, Nancy Pelosi, Myrlie Evers Williams, Al Sharpton, Steny Hoyer, and Ed Schultz.
“I felt it was the first time in my life that there was a unified group that represented freedom…. I’m just an old country boy and (the 1963 march on Washington) was the first time I had been part of something so much bigger than me… It was honor to be in the presence of Dr. King… Coming here was a refueling. I returned home to Carroll County determined to make a change.”
Among his many accomplishments, he was also the first chair of the Concerned Citizens of Carroll County. This group worked to desegregate the county in the mid 1950's and 60's. He also marched in front of the "whites only" Carroll (movie) Theater. In 1970, Lewis was appointed to the Carroll County school board by then-Governor Marvin Mandel. He was the first African American appointed to the board.
Lewis was joined at the 50th anniversary march by Dr. Pam Zappardino, Dr. Charles Collyer, Virginia Harrison, Jean Lewis, Anna-Maria Halstead, Judge Charles Harrison, Cheron Norris, and Xiomara Pierre.
Harrison, who currently serves as Judge of the Orphans’ Court, also attended the march in Washington in 1963. “I was 17-years old. My parents did not want me to go,” said Harrison.
In 1963 there was a widespread fear that the event would quickly cascade into violence. Of course, such was not the case as the events in 1963 were remarkably peaceful.
The 1963 march in Washington “was remarkable that it was so peaceful. No arguing, no fighting… Older black Americans worried that there would be trouble, but there was no backlash from the white community or the authorities….,” observed Harrison, a retired FBI officer, who like Lewis, is a past president of the Carroll County NAACP.
“I grew up in a segregated community and the 1963 march motivated me to reach, look beyond the black community for advancement…” said Harrison, who would later go on to serve in Vietnam, 1970-1971, as a helicopter gunship pilot and serve later serve as a career FBI agent.
When he is not marching around the historic monuments in Washington, Kevin Dayhoff, who is also on the executive committee of the Carroll County NAACP, may be reached at email@example.com