March on Washington: My Father’s Reflections

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.”

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About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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28 Responses to March on Washington: My Father’s Reflections

  1. ShimonZ says:

    A moving post. As you say, those were very important and moving days for people all over the world… and though we didn’t have TV in those days, we followed it all, an felt a great closeness to those who wanted to improve and better the society in your country. I do believe that things have improved since those days, but people always notice what needs improvement still, and hope for a better world for their children and grandchildren. Very nice post.

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  2. Thanks Lisa. I have been watching all of the coverage in awe of the courage and dignity displayed by everyone that day, Growing up in the Birmingham, that day was anticipated with fear and hope. We have gained so much. I am proof of that dream. African American female physician, educator and now director of a division at a major University. There is so much to be thankful for but a long way to go. Thanks again.

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  3. gabi138 says:

    Please thank your father for me. He didn’t just do what was right, he made you and your siblings aware by example so his activism has carried on…

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    • yes very true. We’ve all been committed to giving back through teaching– (2 of us), urban planning (another sister), and local business– my brother– who hires local kids.

      On Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 7:55 AM, cyclingrandma

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  4. Very nice! Like the picture of Daddy and Meira! Supprised that Daddy didn’t talk more about the peopke you met.

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  5. Correction! The peole he met.

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  6. Coming East says:

    Powerful post. Those were difficult times, and we have come a long way, but I’m with Judy–we have a long way to go.

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  7. What a wonderful man Lisa. That march he went to 50 years ago, it did change the course of our history. You are so lucky to still have your heroic father in your life. God bless him.

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  8. I am thankful for those like your Dad who were agents of change and made the world a better place for us and future generations.

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  9. Yes and provided great role models for the next generation.

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  10. I’ve always wished that I’d been old enough to be a part of the Movement, having grown up in the shadow of that time. This is a stirring remembrance of your father’s participation in such an important time in history.

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  11. Judy says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this Lisa. What a gift your father gave to the cause and to his family.

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  12. Dear Lisa,
    This is a very important post. Thank you for the reminder that we are all–or should be–players in this never-ending fight for civil rights and equality. You have great reason to be proud of your dad, and I’m sure he is very proud of you.

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  13. Great post. Always good to remind people what an inter-racial event the March was.

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  14. Patti Winker says:

    Thank you, Lisa, for sharing this personal story. I watched quite a bit of the coverage, news, talk shows, etc., and I am always amazed at the courage it took to take that stand. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine anyone would actually be against marching for “jobs and freedom.” But, there were some pretty scary protests being made at that time. That’s why a heartfelt Thank You goes out to your father and everyone involved in this courageous act. He was definitely on the ‘right side of history’ and taught his children well in the process.

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  15. Thanks, Patti. He gave us all a strong sense about the importance of giving back.

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  16. lexiesnana says:

    This was the best post I have read all day. You were my favorite and please tell your Dad I said thank you.

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  17. Pingback: My 300th Post: 2013 Highlights | cyclingrandma

  18. Reblogged this on cyclingrandma and commented:

    As poignant and relevant today more than ever.

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