Fifty years ago today, a quarter of a million men, women and children descended on Washington, DC in hopes of bringing about true racial equality. Today, we have become unfazed by large groups assembling in protest; in 1963, it was both terrifying and exciting.
As I believe I am the only Sprocket who was alive during the 1963 March, I felt I should write a few thoughts on then, and now. I grew up in a town of mostly whites, except for my own block, where four houses across the street were owned by blacks. We grew up together. Two next door neighbors, one black and one white would later find war did not discriminate; they both came home in coffins. I never thought much about the black-white thing until I got to high school, when I was told I lived on the black side of town. Yeah, apparently four homes made up a whole side of town.
My family traveled to Florida every year for vacation, traveling first through other areas in the South, so I saw the hotels, restaurants and rest rooms with the signs that read “Whites Only.” I didn’t understand it as a child, I still don’t understand it. At the time of the March, I was eight years old and not exactly well informed on the Civil Rights Movement. But I did know who Martin Luther King Jr. was, and I knew this protest was a very big deal.
Just think of the logistics involved. There were no cellphones, no computers, hell there was barely color TV; I know we didn’t have one. But there were news reports, showing people getting off buses dressed in their Sunday clothes, not knowing what the day would bring. You watched the news with trepidation. Would there be violence? Would those people who got off the buses, be alive at the end of the day for their long rides home? There were no guarantees this March would remain peaceful.
We all know how the day ended. In front of the Lincoln Memorial, with one man as the voice for many. Great things occurred that day, not only by the speechmakers. Those marchers were not welcomed into the city with open arms. They were spit on, cursed at and threatened. They kept marching, realizing the movement needed them to keep marching.
Fifty years later much has changed, much has not. For even today, what is enacted into law does not change the heart of a man. Racism is still rampant throughout the country. There are signs thing are worse, and signs that things are better. This past Sunday on the nightly news, I saw the story of a man who as an eleven year-old, marched with his parents in 1963. He had also walked in the commemorative March held on Sunday, this time with his eleven year old daughter. His dream was that in fifty years she would be walking in the 100th year anniversary of the 1963 March with her child. This was a white man and the tears in his eyes said everything he felt in his heart.
Today, it’s time to start walking… again.