Today’s the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that culminated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a Dream” speech. Hundreds of thousands of people from around the country gathered to advocate for racial equality and opportunity.
Among the marchers was my father.
Then 35, he’d been active with labor organizing and joined the march with the United Auto Workers. A poultry farmer, he left the farm, my mother and three young children, me, 7; my sister, 5; and my 4-month-old brother, to travel to Washington, DC.
We grew up learning protest songs. “If I had a Hammer,” “Joe Hill” and “We Shall Overcome” were part of our family repertoire while hiking or on long car trips.
I talked to my father last week about his experiences.
“We took a bus from New York. I remember the discussions as we marched; we said, ‘this won’t be enough. We’ll have to be back.’
It was exhilarating. People came from all over. Everyone felt the camaraderie, the excitement. We felt we were part of change, of history. It brought people together, like we were part of a tidal wave and there’d be a new future together. You felt you were breaking bread with people you could trust.
I had experienced both racism and anti-Semitism at a very early age. The Mayberry family worked with us on our farm. Every morning, Billy Mayberry and I would pick strawberries, tomatoes, whatever had to be done and then my mother made us breakfast before we got on the school bus. Then we were both picked on. We’d defend each other. He called me “my little brother.” We stayed in touch; he died about 20 years ago.
The march had nothing to do with whether you were a Republican or Democrat. It was about repairing a broken society. I think about your grandchildren now and wonder what kind of world they’ll have.”