John Harrison and Gerry Harrison, center, along with Sinora Lewis, and Betsy and Jack Pierce and Linda Kincaid (not pictured) sat down on Tuesday to talk about the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. David Grace photo.
But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.
These words were uttered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his now famous “I have a dream speech,” during the March on Washington. Today marks the 50th anniversary of that march.
Linda Kincaid remembers growing up in the area while the march was taking place.
“We have come to appreciate the significance, but I feel certain we weren’t as impacted as others,” she said. “We certainly were upset about the atrocities and indignities that people were suffering and we related to that.”
She said most black people in this area were trying to raise their kids and keep their heads down because they worried about keeping their jobs.
Growing up in Jackson, Miss., during the turbulent era of the 1960s, Gerry Harrison remembers the impact King had on the black community.
“When Martin Luther King would come on TV, it was like he’s the black Moses, he’s going to deliver us,” Harrison said. “Everything that was going on, we felt like it was going to make a change.”
Harrison’s dad did not want her or her siblings participating because too many things could go wrong.
Sinora Lewis still remembers some of the appalling conditions she was subjected too growing up. She remembers drinking out of separate water fountains and sitting in a separate area in the bus station.
Even though she didn’t like segregation, Lewis wasn’t sure if any good would come from the March on Washington.
“I felt like all those people are causing trouble and we’re going to have some results from it that are not going to be in our interest,” she said. “I was just living for the day.”
Lewis also remembers feeling a sense of doom when the march was taking place.
John Harrison also grew up in Mississippi during the 1960s. He lived in a rural area and said some of the atrocities taking place in other cities around the state were not occurring in the area where he lived.
He said he remembers some of the news coverage of the march, but he believes some of the information might have been tainted.
“The news media that was prevalent that day, I don’t think they knew what was going to happen or the significance of it,” he said. “Their coverage wasn’t the greatest in the world.”
John Harrison said that media at the time would paint the picture to what that particular media outlet wanted to portray.
His father was a community activist, and any information the family got, they were curious about.
Betsy Pierce lived in the area at the time and was busy trying to raise her children. She does have one regret from that time.
“I didn’t participate in the march, but I wish I had,” she said. “The things that came out of it, it wasn’t what we expected.”
Betsy Pierce said she loves listening to King and said his message was great.
Jack Pierce remembers the crowd being much larger than anyone anticipated. All sorts of races stood together on the National Mall for as far as the eye could see.
He thinks that day is the first day everybody took notice.
“What happened that day was a wake-up call for the nation,” he said. “Well, not just for the nation but for the world to see that many people gathered in one place.”
Today, it is a very different world from when King delivered his most famous speech. Segregation is gone and a black man holds the highest office in the land, the presidency.
There are mixed emotions about what having a black president means to the dream King had.
“I believe what Dr. King’s dream was that there would be equal opportunities for a man, woman, black, white, red to achieve, if that’s what they chose to do,” Kincaid said.
Lewis believes the presidency is not about race but about economics, and she said that has been proven in the past five years while Jack Pierce believes there is a race problem in Washington, D.C. and some legislators are afraid to speak out and say the president is doing a good job because of race.
Either way, King certainly laid the foundation for President Barack Obama to hold office 50 years later.
“Everything that has gone for the last 50 years was making a foundation for where we are today,” Gerry Harrison said. “It was a vision, it was a dream, but to have a black president? I didn’t know if I would see that day.”
America certainly has come a long way since the March on Washington. But some recent actions taken by the branches of government have got some worried that America is taking a step backward.
“With some of the legislation that is being formed, to me it’s a digression,” John Harrison said. “What the Supreme Court did with the Voting Rights Act, some of these Stand your Ground laws that are being passed especially in the South, with Tennessee included ... if that proliferation keeps going, people will have to overcome all that just to be where we are now.”
Because politics has and will play a big role for minorities, Lewis believes that everyone needs to get out and vote and then vote some more.
What everybody agreed on is that education is important and the more people are educated, the better decisions they will make.
In another 50 years, when the March on Washington will turn 100, it is hard to tell what the United States will look like.
Technology will certainly be advanced, but will King’s dream of equal opportunity for all be realized?
Maybe the kids can tell us.
“Children tend to break down barriers...,” Lewis said. “It will take nothing but love, the love of people and the love of God to create the kind of environment that we need. I think those children are going to break down any barriers there is and even though we won’t be here, it’s going to be a different world.”
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