To read Part One of my mom's story, please go to yesterday's post on Still + Life.
It was very exciting when we got to the Washington Monument. We picked up signs and banners and everybody started walking toward the Lincoln Memorial. The March itself was very moving. Many of us joined arms or hands and sang “Freedom, Freedom” or “We Shall Overcome.” I think I began to get an idea what a big deal this was... all these people who didn’t know each other but were united in this cause and committed to doing something brave for it. And on a personal level it was clear that people were committed to being nice to each other. It always fascinates and reassures me that what one chooses to do on a personal level can have such an enormous impact on a much broader scale. Anyway, I never saw anything that resembled hostility or even testiness the entire time we were there, or on the whole trip for that matter. That in itself kind of tells the story of the event.
Here’s the disappointing part, at least as far as a good story is concerned. As I said, when we got to the Lincoln Memorial we found it impossible to see or hear anything. Well, I take that back. We could hear some of the speakers but not well. We heard Mahalia Jackson and we heard the applause and cheers for the speeches...especially MLK’s. If you look at that picture on Wikipedia looking out from the Lincoln Memorial there are trees lining the left side of the mall. We were behind those trees, about a quarter of the way back. At the time we weren’t really disappointed. We were happy to be there and felt very much a part of something profound. We were actually lucky about the trees because it was HOT. There was a special on CNN on Sunday night and on it one woman mentioned the heat, saying it had to be the hottest day of the year. There were sandwiches and drinks for the crowd along the March so it was kind of like a picnic at times.
The churches in the surrounding area were opened up so we could use the bathrooms and wash up at the end of the day. After we washed up and ate a bite (more sandwiches at the churches) we got back on the buses and rode all night and all day and arrived in Carbondale the next evening. The mood on the bus going back was pretty joyful with lots of singing until most of us fell asleep. We were exhausted, of course. I’m sure there was relief as well as pride in how well everything went. And more hope.
It wasn’t until after the whole thing was over that I heard and saw some of the speeches on TV. I could see then the same kind of uplifting experience I had felt at the march. As the years have gone by I’ve become even more impressed about what happened. Of course, no one at the time could have foreseen just how important the March was. It was a critical moment in the civil rights movement. Even though there was plenty of violence both before and after that event...(Medgar Evers, Birmingham bombing, assassinations, murders) I think the intention of non-violence and the spirit of peace among the demonstrators at the March had a profound impact on the civil rights movement and on how the people of America in general saw the movement. This was the moment that MLK had the audience he needed to get his message across to the nation.I am proud I was there.