Members of the Carroll County chapter of the NAACP were among the tens of thousands on the National Mall, at the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 24 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington.
It was on that day that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made his "I Have a Dream" clarion call of the civil rights movement. The speech, part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom political rally, 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 a four-minute time slot that no other speaker wanted 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 Canceled Check."
Whatever the title, or even if it had one, the original draft never included the words, "I have a dream."
It has been reported that after King began his remarks that day in front of an estimated 200,000 that 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."
John Lewis, past president of the county's NAACP chapter, 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.
"I felt it was the first time in my life that there was a unified group that represented freedom," he said. "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 [an] honor to be in the presence of Dr. King," he said. "Coming here was a refueling. I returned home to Carroll County determined to make a change."
Lewis went on to become one of the first black PTA presidents in Carroll County, and in the late 1960s, joined the previously all-white Westminster Jaycees.
Lewis was also the first chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Carroll County, a group that worked to desegregate the county in the 1950s and '60s. 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-Gov. Marvin Mandel. He was the first black appointed to the board.
Lewis was not the only person with a Carroll connection among those at the 50th anniversary march last weekend. He was joined Dr. Pam Zappardino, Dr. Charles Collyer, Virginia Harrison, Jean Lewis, Anna-Mari Halstead, Judge Charles Harrison, Cheron Norris, Xiomara Pierre and myself, among others.
Harrison, currently the 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, like Lewis, a past president of the Carroll County NAACP.
In 1963, there was widespread fear that the event would quickly cascade into violence. Of course, such was not the case. The events in 1963 were remarkably peaceful.
The 1963 march "was remarkable that it was so peaceful. No arguing, no fighting," Harrison said. "Older black Americans worried that there would be trouble, but there was no backlash from the white community or the authorities."
"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 serve in Vietnam, 1970-1971, as a helicopter gunship pilot before beginning a career as an FBI agent.