By Hamil R. Harris
It was the morning of the 1963 March on Washington and Yale Law School student Eleanor Holmes Norton was so busy organizing buses to bring people to DC for the event that she almost got stuck in New York.
March organizers, including A. Phillip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Roy Wilkins were already in Washington and they purchased a plane that landed at the national airport as people were gathering at the Lincoln Memorial.
Planes landing at Reagan National Airport often follow the Potomac River and then take a 45-degree turn at the Memorial. Seated on the left side of the plane as it made a left turn, Norton looked out the window and her heart filled with emotions.
“When I looked out the window of the plane, I could tell that march would be a big success,” Norton said. “There were more than 250,000 people, which was more than had ever come to Washington, D.C.”
Today Norton is the D.C. Delegate in a very divided Congress and as organizers prepare for the 60th anniversary of the March, she often reflects on that event and thinks of what is possible.
“The march was extremely successful because out of this march came three Civil Rights bills.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act,” said Norton who will be one of the veterans speaking at the march on August 26th.
Rev. Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network, said, “As we honor the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, we must also remember why we continue to march and carry the torch of Dr. King’s vision today.”
Martin Luther King III, chairman of the Drum Major Institute, said “My dad’s speech at the March on Washington nearly 60 years ago was a profound moment in American history … Despite the significant progress we have made over these six decades, we need to rededicate ourselves to the mission my dad gave his life for. It is difficult to not be disgruntled with everything going on in the world.”
Andrea Waters King, MLK III’s wife, and president of the Drum Major Institute, said “The struggles of Black and Brown Americans, particularly women and girls, faced 60 years ago are, in many ways, still prevalent today.
“Dr. King called on us all to work to eradicate the triple evils of racism, poverty, and violence by standing for peace, justice, and equity. As a mother, I’m afraid for my teenage daughter, but I am empowered to use my voice to ensure that her future and the future of all young girls is as bright as her grandfather dreamed.”
Organizers hope the 2023 March on Washington will set the tone for 2024 exactly 60 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders organized the pivotal March on Washington in August 1963.
The pre-program for August 26th March begins at 8 a.m. and the main program starts at 11 a.m. At the end of the program, participants will march from the Lincoln Memorial.
In 1963, urged by Gospel singer extraordinaire Mahalia Jackson, King veered from his prepared text and answered the singer’s request to talk about “the dream,” he had for America.
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream …” King said.
He continued in perhaps his most famous words: “I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character …
Dr. Gerald Durley, 81, the retired pastor of Atlanta’s Provident Baptist Church and a veteran Civil Rights Activist, was standing in the crowd in 1963. “I came to the March as the President of the Student Body at Tennessee State University,” he said.
On August 26th, Durley will join Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King, III, Andrea Waters King, Rev. Jamal Bryant, and leaders from 60 different organizations for the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
This year’s anniversary march co-chairs include the Anti-Defamation League; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; the Legal Defense Fund; the NAACP; the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation; the National Council of Negro Women; the National Urban League; and UNIDOS, formerly the National Council of La Raza.