"So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice."
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Linda Chapin was a Southern girl who through her family's frequent moves north and south found her soul pricked by the iniquity stamped on "Whites only" signs.
Francis Oliver marched against Jim Crow as a Sanford teenager.
LaVon Wright Bracy was the teenage daughter of a NAACP activist who was run out of St. Augustine by racists.
Their paths had never crossed. But on Aug. 28, 1963 — 50 years ago Wednesday — the three lives intersected at a seismic moment: the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
As part of PBS' reflection on the march, WUCF TV was among 10 PBS member stations enlisted to capture community recollections of the seminal event. Its contribution to "Memories of the March" — bite-sized first-person nuggets from the three women and retired Col. Nathan Thomas Jr. of Melbourne — aired Sunday and will rebroadcast Wednesday.
Fifty years later, memories of the march remain sharp.
The day before 250,000 strong marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, Chapin, a Michigan State coed, hopped a train to the nation's capital to ally with classmates spoiling for change.
The gravity of the gathering never crossed her mind. But her mind roiled with memories that included blacks trudging past the Beacham Theatre — where tweenaged Chapin enjoyed films — to attend a black-only movie house.
Says Chapin: "Being a Southern girl, you grew up with certain things you later realized were just plain wrong."
As King shared his dream with America, his vision was déjà vu for Oliver — who persuaded her white boss to sacrifice her soap operas so they could watch the novel rainbow coalition flickering on a scratchy black-and-white television.
"We were hoping when we got out of college we would find jobs and would not be judged by the color of our skin, but the content of our character," says Oliver, who was blasted by hoses while marching against a whites-only high-school dance held at a shiny new community civic center in Sanford. "Martin Luther King's dream was not just his dream, but all of our dream."
Once the soaring words faded, hope abided.
But hope was foreign to folks such as Bracy — the first black person to graduate from Gainesville High School. A year after King's speech she was brutally beaten by white classmates.
"I was prayerful that we would really see a time … that all kids could go to any school they wanted to and our rights would be affirmed," says Bracy, who watched the march on TV.
In the march's wake, that prayer was, in large measure, answered. Sweeping legislation affirmed voting and civil rights, enforced desegregation and provided wage reforms. And change came, too, in small measure.
As Chapin would tell students in her social-justice class at the University of Central Florida, "When I was your age, you would never pick up a magazine and see a black face or see blacks on TV'."
Yet at the golden jubilee of our national-conscience check, everything old is new again.
Voter suppression. The Supreme Court declawing of the Voting Rights Act. Real racial hatred anonymously spewed in virtual realms.
"The night Barack Obama was elected, I thought, 'This long national nightmare is behind us,'" says Chapin, a former Orange County mayor. "And then there are days when you know it's not. There is still racism in America … and our polarized politics have made it worse."
Indeed, only 45 percent of Americans in a new Pew Research Center survey think America has made significant strides toward racial equality.
As Oliver sees it, the march's 50th jubilee should spark a renewal of purpose.
"It seems we have taken a 20- to 30-year step back instead of a 20- to 30-year step forward," she says. "We need a revival — I'm just hoping we have the strength that we had in 1963."
One can dream.
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