Memories From the March

The Root spoke to young organizers of the 1963 march. They remember a day filled with pride, power and passion.

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"I was a Department of Justice observer, undercover, watching for potential race riots or police misconduct. As a black I didn't stick out. Everyone assumed I was a college student or part of Martin Luther King's entourage.

"Not that the Justice Department expected anything to happen, but the March on Washington was right after the James Meredith desegregation issues in Mississippi, and in Alabama you still had the Ku Klux Klan threatening to lynch blacks.

"I thought MLK went to the heart of what this country ought to stand for. It really gave reality to the Declaration of Independence and how a person should be able to achieve based on his or her God-given talents and abilities. King's speech was on par with Thomas Jefferson's on the Declaration of Independence, though that document was only talking about white men at the time.

"The energy of the March on Washington attendees was enthusiastic, but my philosophy is rather than protest, use your economic power and vote."

Beverly Alston, 12 in 1963, HARYOU Leadership Trainee

"In 1963, there was a leadership program called HARYOU, the precursor to all of the poverty programs, and it was also a study of Harlem ghetto youth. We 32 trainees, mostly made up of high school or college students, were well-briefed on our purpose and lectured every day by people like Malcolm X. For the march, we traveled to Washington, D.C., on an uncomfortable yellow school bus.

"As a third generation Harlemite, I'd never even seen so many white people before that hot day in 1963. Adults had children on their shoulders and everyone was singing; it was such harmony.

"My attention wasn't as focused as some of the older trainees and I wasn't a Martin Luther King-ite -- I'd barely heard of him. Depending on where you were from, certainly if home was a Southern state, you were marching for desegregation and freedom. Folks from the North were more centered on jobs and equal opportunity. But I distinctly remember a hush falling over the crowd as Martin Luther King Jr. spoke. I will never forget that or the freedom songs like 'We Shall Overcome' sung by blacks and whites holding hands.

Gale Liebman, 20 in 1963, Tutor in Pittsburgh's Hill District

"When I heard about the March on Washington, I was excited, but my parents were fearful for my safety because there wasn't a history of demonstrations in 1963. Ultimately my aunt, a retired teacher, told my parents that she'd go with me.