March into history recalled by local residents

The morning of Aug. 28, 1963, was filled with apprehension for Alfred Whittaker as he traveled to the nation's capital for the Civil Rights March on Washington.

Not sure of what lay ahead, his worries about his safety and the fear of violence gave the morning an "air of danger."

His fears soon faded.

"I saw so many groups marching to D.C.," Whittaker recalled. "The determination of the people to get there and be a part of that movement. I felt better as I went along … (and realized) other people were willing to risk their safety."

This past week, the Manchester resident shared his memories of the March on Washington so they could be included with an oral history project being conducted by the Westminster-based Community Media Center.

While the oral history project has been ongoing at the center, the focus on the March on Washington was the idea of Jean Lewis, chair of Carroll County NAACP.

"We're hoping it can be a tool," Lewis said, of the march memories. "If we don't make people understand what happened, we can so easily slip back to the way we were before."

More than 250,000 people attended the March on Washington, which featured various speakers and entertainers beforeMartin Luther King Jr.addressed the crowd and delivered his now famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

The day, which many had feared would turn hostile, was noted for its civility by all those in attendance.

"It was kind of festive as the day went on," Whittaker recalled. "There was a community among the people. a sense of 'you are not in this alone, other people … wish you well and are willing to handle some social discomfort.'

"At age 29, I felt very good when I saw these kinds of things," he said.

Whittaker recalled specifically a Catholic priest in "regal robes" and Jewish followers. People from all over the country attended, traveling either by bus, plane or foot, he said.

"What is nice about this is multiracial people are participating," Lewis said of the oral histories. "Naive as it sounds, people think just African Americans attended."

Five people have volunteered to share their memories of the march, according to Lewis, and she hopes more will come forward.

Marion Ware, executive director of the Media Center, said the memoires of the march will be edited and featured on the media center's channel 19 starting the second week of February — which is Black History Month.

"We're thrilled," Ware said of the March memories. "We hope to collect it and get it out. It's a great idea."

Pat Dorsey, who is conducting the March interviews, was only 13 years old when the March occurred. Though she remembers watching it on television, and said hearing the memories of those who attended has brought it to life for her.

"Just hearing them speak put me right there with them and what it was like," Dorsey said. "It was very electrifying. One person described it as 'a sea of people.' They were walking shoulder to shoulder, lines and lines, people from all walks of life."

She also noted the sense of danger. At a time when lynchings and beatings were common, King's message of love was not always welcome.

"It is really important to lay it all out there," Dorsey said. "King's message of love — many were not interested, and said, 'Let's get violent and take the streets and show them.' It was a tough time. You had to make the choice of lying low and keeping safe or step out and be involved."

Whittaker noted that King's speech reminded everyone that in 1863 — 100 years prior to the march — President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation has been enacted. He said King noted how little progress had been made.

Sitting in the media center in 2012, Whittaker said that while much has been accomplished, he hopes that by the 100th anniversary of King's speech, true equality will be reached.

"The vast majority of Americans are well-meaning people who want things to be as advertised — as a democracy and humane," Whittaker said.

"We are miles away from where it was in 1963," he said. "In a hundred years, I hope that the country has grown to a point where ... these issues are settled and it's become the great country it is destined to be. "

A world traveler, Whittaker said he is always thankful and proud to call America his home.

"I am always pleased and thank God that I live in America," Whittaker said. "It is a great country and founded on the great premise all people are created equal. … While it did not involve us, thank goodness it does now."

The Community Media Center is planning to have the March on Washington memories together for viewing by the second week of February. Broadcasts of the NAACP's MLK breakfast, as well as a series on Granville T. Woods, an inventor, are also scheduled for the month of February. For listings visit

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad