50 years ago this week, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in Washington, DC, changing American history.
The National Education Association website today features video of retired teachers who marched with Martin Luther King on August 28, 1963.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington we asked retired teachers who attended the March in 1963 to send us their stories. One of the coolest moments of all my time at the National Air and Space Museum (even including the last Space Shuttle launch), was during Inauguration in 2009 when we the President had invited Tuskegee airmen to come be a part of the parade and we had them over at the museum and the public just cheered them as they walked by. In planning the March on Washington anniversary, I wanted to replicate that feeling and thought: teachers should be recognized and cheered as much as pilots, without teachers to teach them reading and math, there would be no pilots!
So we sent out a call via email and on our website inviting members to share their stories and overnight we got 16! And they kept on coming until we received 32. The best part about them is that they are not “celebrity” stories, these are rank and file teachers telling their eyewitness accounts and how being there that day changed their lives and those of the students – these teachers have been in the classroom for 40+ years, whole generations of students have been influenced by what they saw that that in 1963.
Below, a few of the stories shared at the NEA website.
Harry from Maryland:
“In 1963 there was no Metro, so I went to the Mall by bus (on the old DC Transit). The crowd was enthusiastic and the highlight came when Dr. King declared "I Have A Dream." I think we were all fully aware that we were participating in a great historic event and hearing a speech of similar import to the Gettysburg Address. A couple of years later, my friend Jim Reeb, a minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in DC, was bludgeoned to death in Selma while there supporting voting rights. My Unitarian friends and I were horrified and seven of us from my church, Cedar Lane Unitarian Church, decided to get on one of the "freedom trains" to Alabama to join the march from Selma to Montgomery. As we rode through Georgia, we were told to stay on the floor of the train car since there had been guns fired at other freedom trains. I had the honor of joining the march to Montgomery with Dr. King. Several of us were teachers and we had heard that black children from Alabama had said that they had no American flags in their schools. So we took flags with us to give to some of those children. Several of them corresponded with me and some of my students at Wheaton for some time after that. I consider myself, as a student and teacher of history to have been fortunate to have witnessed two of Dr. King's great speeches and to have been able to meet and talk to Dr. King during the march from Selma.”
Gwenn from Virginia:
“Some events will remain imprinted upon our hearts and minds for the rest of our lives. They provide a colorful backdrop to what we will always remember as part of our individual story. These events are so monumental that just the mention of them sends a chill down our spines. We want the world to know that we were a part of this thing called history. We want to tell our story and to recall the experience over and over again. This is how I feel about August 28, 1963. It was a day like no other not only for me but for all of those who attended… …Finally, Dr. King was introduced and his oratory reverberated. It was so powerful that I wondered if people all over the world could hear him. He was a masterful speaker and the substance of his words grabbed the hearts of all who heard him. At that moment and for that brief moment in time people were of one mind. Everyone wanted to keep the momentum of his powerful and heartfelt words alive with action. I left with a new sense of hope for myself and for all I encountered that day. I left with his dream etched in my psyche and with dreams I had never dreamed before. It truly was a day to remember!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Barbara from Upper Marlboro:
“I RODE A TAXI TO THE MONUMENT. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WERE THERE TALKING AND SOME SINGING. I FOUND PEOPLE WERE VERY FRIENDLY AND WANTED TO TALK. FLAGS WERE WAVING AND FREEDOM SONGS WERE BEING SUNG.. SOME PEOPLE WANTED TO STAY AROUND BUT I DECIDED TO WALK CLOSER TO THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL.IT WAS AMAZING. I WALKED THROUGH THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE AND GOT CLOSER ENOUGH TO BE ABLE TO SEE THE GUEST SPEAKERS AND SINGERS EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE AT A DISTANCE. I COULD ACTUALLY SEE DR. KING AS HE SPOKE. MANY PEOPLE WERE CRYING BUT EVERYONE WAS LISTENING. SOME WHITES WERE THERE. SOME OF THEM WERE ALSO CRYING. I REMEMBER HEARING A MAN SAY HOW COULD AMERICA BE SO BLIND AND NOT TREAT THESE CITIZENS AS TRUE AMERICANS. AS FAR BACK AS YOU COULD SEE THERE WERE PEOPLE. I GOT ONE OF THE SPECIAL CAPS AND I HOPE I CAN LOCATE MY PROGRAM AND MY BLUE CAP MARKING THIS EVENT. THAT EVENT IS SOMETHING I WILL NEVER FORGET. I ALWAYS SHARED IT WITH MY CLASSES THROUGHOUT MY YEARS OF TEACHING. I AM ALWAYS LOOKING FOR MY FACE OR MY BROTHERs FACE IN THE CROWD WHENEVER A PICTURE OF THE HISTORIC EVENT IS SHOWN. THIS HISTORICAL EVENTS SHOULD NEVER BE FORGOTTEN. OUR CHILDREN MUST KNOW THE STRUGGLES OF THEIR PEOPLE TO GET WHERE WE ARE TODAY. BUT WE STILL HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO TO INSTILL IN OUR CHILDREN THEIR IMPORTANCE IN THIS COUNTRY AND THE WORLD.”