Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous I Have a Dream Speech. My mom was there. She traveled with the minister of her church, a man named Pope Ward and a group of other men and women, young and old from southern Illinois to Washington, DC to be part of this moment. To have their voices heard. I don't think they knew at the time how significant this event would be. I thought it would be nice if my mom recounted her memories of that event on the blog, today and tomorrow, to commemorate this moment.
Looking back I can see what a remarkable thing it was that I was on the March given that I was growing up in a very small town that sat pretty much on the sidelines of the civil rights movement. As you know it was because of Pope that I had the opportunity. He had already been active in the civil rights movement and working with other pastors in the area to organize interaction between the black and white churches. When the March was being planned, Pope and some other pastors in the area organized a delegation to go from southern IL. He told us that some young people were going along from SIU and offered that I could go as well if it was okay with Mom and Dad. I can't remember any hesitation at all, not on my part or my folks. It seemed like a no-brainer. From our perspective it was the right thing to do and a great opportunity to be a part of this important event. I would turn 17 about a week after the march, and go into my senior year of high school. (A funny little irony; it was only a couple weeks after the march that I won 2nd runner up in the Apple Festival Queen contest! Somehow the two events seem unlikely to be so closely linked in time.)
I was surprised when some of my friends’ parents called Mom and warned her that she shouldn’t allow me to go on the March because violence was certain, and I would be in danger. Didn’t faze Grandma Mercedes though. We just didn’t think that was going to happen. Kind of interesting really. I think we just trusted Pope completely and thought he would watch out for me.
There were two busloads
of us starting off very early in the morning of August 27. In the two busloads I believe there
were maybe three or four white men: Pope, another pastor from Carbondale who I
knew, a young man from my church who was studying for the ministry and another
I didn't know. There were two white girls: me and a young woman who was maybe
20. I didn’t know her. She was very nice and we enjoyed each other's company. I
don't think I've seen her since! The rest of the people were African-American,
both young and old and mostly from area churches and the university. On the bus I sat with the other white girl. I think her name was Jan. I think we were grateful for each other's company. It was a bit daunting at first to be with more black people than either of us had ever seen before and to be distinctly in the minority! Not that we hadn't known any blacks. The schools were integrated in Murphysboro, IL, where I grew up. I don't know when that happened, but I never knew it any other way. But within the school there was a kind of natural segregation. Not a lot of mixing. Anyway, Jan and I sat with the other young people and we had fun. The atmosphere was polite at first but we talked and sang freedom songs and things loosened up. The mood was quite positive.
The trip was long. We rode all day and all night. We would stop at gas stations for restrooms. No one on the road was hostile toward us. In fact, sometimes people along the road would wave to us encouragingly. We arrived in Washington about daybreak and joined the crowd gathering at the Washington Monument. There were a LOT of people! I don't think I had ever seen so many people in one place.
Come back tomorrow, for Part Two.