While the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington was billed as a national event, a number of area locals came to the National Mall to march to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, commemorate history and forge a path forward.
“This march is a reminder of where we have come and where we need to go,” said Ivory A. Tolson, a professor of counseling psychology at Howard University and the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Negro Education.
Tolson was among thousands of people present, taking in the speeches, listening to musical performances, and there to fight for a more equitable future.
“Our commitment to remembering the past is critically important given all these racial injustices that are taking place.”
D.C.-Area Residents Speak About the March
Many attendees donned paraphernalia from fraternal, educational, civil rights and political organizations.
Shawnette Turner, a resident of National Harbor, Maryland, sat on a bedspread under a tree facing the Reflecting Pool. Turner, 50, was with several of her fellow sorority sisters of Delta Sigma Theta as they watched the proceedings of the program.
She attended the march because of her uneasiness with what is going on nationally.
“Racial injustice has become rampant in our society and our country,” Turner said. “We must take action. Delta was founded in 1913 and one of the first things our founders did was participate in the march for the right for women to vote that year. We were at the back, but we were there. And we are here because a woman’s right to an abortion and affirmative action are under attack and we have to fight back.”
Turner’s sorority member, Sheila Bunn, the chief of staff to D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and a political leader in Ward 8, attended the march wearing a crimson and crème blouse and pants. She waited patiently at the foot of the lower steps of the Lincoln Memorial to take a picture with many of her fellow members.
Like Turner, Bunn cited the 1913 women’s vote march as an indication of Delta’s history of activism as one of the main reasons why she attended the event.
“We are doing it again,” Bunn said. “Delta is strong for fighting for civil, human and women’s rights and we will keep on marching.”
Gray’s colleague Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) served as one of the speakers at the event.
George, 35, welcomed the crowd to the District and talked about, what she termed as, the major human rights violation that is taking place there.
“I want to urge you to support D.C. statehood,” she said. “D.C. statehood is a racial justice issue. We are not free here in D.C. Nobody is free until everybody is free.”
Deltas and members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, of which George is a member, weren’t the only Black women who belonged to Greek organizations who marched.
Juanita Morris is a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Inc. and stood with a group of her fellow sorority members near the front. Morris, 29 and a resident of Ward 6, said the event was “cool.”
“You learn a lot about a part of history being here,” she said. “I know I was born after the 1963 march took place, but I am learning what the issues were and what this means today as far as education and community engagement is concerned.”
Julian Clarkson, an 18-year-old Glenn Dale, Maryland, resident who is a freshman at Bowie State University, agreed with Morris that being a part of history was the main reason he came to the event with several of his schoolmates.
“Sixty years ago, what happened was a great event,” he said. “It was a triumph for the Black community. But we are still dealing with the same issues today that they were talking about back then.”
Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which is headquartered in the District, said he remembers the 1963 march well.
“I was here 60 years ago,” Chavis, 75, said. “I was the youth coordinator from the state of North Carolina. My job was to get youth to come to the March on Washington.”
Chavis said he worked with noted North Carolina civil rights leader Golden Frinks to get people in the state to come to the march. A civil rights veteran in his own right, the leader of the trade association for Black newspapers said the work of the march continues.
“We still have problems,” Chavis explained, emphasizing the need for continued action.
Talks show radio host, the Rev. Mark Thompson, spoke of Chavis and the legacy of the other anniversary marches.
“Dr. Chavis was here when he was 15 and I was here when I was 16 at the 20th anniversary and I will never forget Stevie Wonder singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to a crowd of almost half a million — and two months later, Ronald Reagan signing the King holiday bill,” Thompson said. “So, we are still dreaming, and we are still marching.”