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Chapel Hill Goes to the 1963 March on Washington

by Charly Mann 

This week a memorial commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King will open in Washington, DC on the 48th anniversary of his inspiring "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington on August 28th, 1963. I, along with about 50 other intrepid Chapel Hillians, were there on that day to be participants and eyewitnesses to history.

March on Washington demonstrators
This is part of the Chapel Hill, North Carolina contingent to the 1963 March on Washington soon after arriving in the nation's capitol on August 28th, 1963

The purpose of the March on Washington was to gather about 100,000 people from every state in the nation to march in support of legislation that would end segregation in all public schools, as well as prohibit racial discrimination in hiring in both the public and private sector. Another objective was to raise the minimum wage to $2.00 an hour. (By the way, six years later I had a "good job" where my salary was $1.60 an hour.)

March on Washington marcher
This is me, Charly Mann, in the center carrying the sign, along with other people from Chapel Hill marching from the Washington Mounument to Lincoln Memorial at the 1963 March on Washington. My chaperon on the trip was Dick Lamanna, a sociology graduate student, who was active in the civil rights movement in Chapel Hill from 1961-1963. He left Chapel Hill in 1964 and had a long career as a professor at Notre Dame. All of the photographs in this article, except the last four, were taken by him.

I was 13 years old at this time, and had been active in the civil rights movement since 1960. I was especially galvanized for this demonstration because I had recently learned that in the 100 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the South, not one piece of civil rights legislation had been enacted to guarantee the same rights for blacks as for whites.

Lincoln Memorial August 28th, 1968
This is the view that the group from Chapel Hill had of the speaker's podium at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. We were lucky to be so close.  

We boarded what we called our "freedom bus" to Washington in darkness at about 5:00 AM in front of a black Baptist church on the west side of Chapel Hill. Throughout the week the press had carried reports of threats by the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations to those who tried to go to Washington that day, but we were not deterred. In 1963 only short sections of I-85 and I-95 were completed between Chapel Hill and Washington, so much of our journey was on secondary roads. I remember as the sun was coming up near where we entered Virginia there was a group of several dozen white men at an intersection with racist signs shouting at us.

Chapel Hill Civil Rights demonstrators
This is a photo of the Chapel Hill group sitting in the shade next to the Lincoln Memorial shortly before the speeches began.

By the time we were 20 miles outside of Washington we had become part of a seemingly endless caravan of buses headed to the march. We arrived in Washington at about 10:00 AM and headed toward the Washington Monument where the march was to begin. The march had very little support among American whites, and even President Kennedy urged the organizers to cancel it. The Washington Daily News paper reported that most people felt we were like "the Vandals coming to sack Rome". Even Lawrence Spivak of NBC's respected Meet the Press program said he believed "it would be impossible to bring more than 100,000 militant Negroes into Washington without incidents and possibly rioting." The American government was so afraid of blacks coming to Washington to demand equal rights that they not only ordered all liquor stores closed in the city (thereby preventing angry blacks from getting drunk and violent), but also told federal employees that they did not have to come to work that day. This was especially annoying to me since almost all the violence I had seen during my time in the civil rights movement was white people lynching, beating up, bombing, and shooting blacks who were protesting racial injustice by non-violent means. Furthermore, none of the organizing groups or leaders of the March on Washington had ever advocated violence. (The more militant black Nation of Islam led by Malcolm X did not support, nor were they part of, the March).

March on Washington crowd
A beautiful shot of the crowd along the Reflecting Pool at the Lincoln Memorial. In the front sitting down are members of the Chapel Hill group including me, from behind, in the blue hat.

The march began at 11:30,  and we marched together black and white, almost 300,000 strong, down both Constitution and Independence Avenues to the Lincoln Memorial. 75% of the marchers were black, and the vast majority of them came from the North, as fears of violence from southern racists had frightened many people in the South from coming. Nevertheless, the march was the biggest demonstration up to that time in Washington's history, and attracted three times more participants than the organizers had hoped for.

1963 March on Washington bus
This is me, Charly Mann, in front of the Chapel Hill "Freedom Bus", shortly after arriving in Washington on August 28th, 1963

Our walk to the Lincoln Memorial was only a mile long, and the Chapel Hill group was in the first third of the march, so we were close enough to see the speakers and performers well. While the remainder of the marchers found places to sit and stand along the Reflecting Pool in front of the Memorial, we were entertained by performers including Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, and Mahalia Jackson, as well as a reading from the great black writer James Baldwin by actor Charlton Heston. (Today many think of Heston as a conservative because of his leadership of the NRA, but in the 1950's and 60's he was one of the few Hollywood stars who regularly spoke out for equality and civil rights legislation.)

Martin Luther King August 28th, 1963
Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial after delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech on August 28th, 1963

The speeches began at about 2:00 PM and culminated around 5:00 with Martin Luther King's eloquent “I Have a Dream" speech that beautifully advocated an America of racial harmony and justice. I had been fortunate to meet King in 1960, and remember thinking as I heard him speak what a wise old man he was. Today I realize that when I first met him he was 31, and on this momentous occasion only 34.

March on Washington Lincoln Memorial program
This is my program of the events at Lincoln Memorial during The March on Washington on August 28th, 1963.

After the speeches concluded we walked back to our bus and returned to Chapel Hill at about 10:30 PM. Martin Luther King and several of the other civil rights leaders who spoke that afternoon went to the White House after the event to lobby President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson to strongly support the civil rights legislation they were advocating. Within two years those goals were met with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

 March on Washington 1963 button

Klu-Klux-Klan threat
After returning from the March on Washington I wore the above pin for several weeks which angered many of my friends and other people I knew in Chapel Hill. Most of my friends' parents were UNC professors, merchants, and professionals. I got many threatening notes, was beaten up once, and several times groups of my former friends threw rocks at me. Primarily because of this I never attended Chapel Hill schools afterward.

When I got back to Chapel Hill I proudly wore my March on Washington button for the next several weeks. Though a sizable minority of whites in Chapel Hill supported eventual integration, most did not favor protests or immediate desegregation. Most of the friends I had were furious with my involvement in the civil rights movement, and even though I spent the majority of the next 25 years of my life in Chapel Hill, none of them ever spoke to me again. There was also a large group of Chapel Hillians and UNC students who supported segregation, and had bumper stickers of the confederate flag on their rear car bumpers. I was called many unpleasant things by these people, and several times groups of my peers threw rocks at me. I also began receiving racist phone calls and anonymous notes; all somewhat scary to a 13 year old. I am sure though that this was nothing in comparison to what local black youths and adults were experiencing. I remember the two most common epithets hurled against me were "nigger-lover" and "race-mixer".

Comment
 
 

Comments:

Kathy Fehl      3:57 PM Wed 11/9/2011

I think Herbert Holman was the first black student at Chapel Hill High.

Eventually Herbert, Tee Tee Foushee, Harold Foster and I road the bus together to Kansas City for the Core convention. Jim Farmer was there. Floyd McKissick was there with the Chapel Hill Freedom Committee. We watched as Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill.
 

Kathy Fehl      3:55 PM Wed 11/9/2011

Hi. I'm so glad you wrote this article, Charlie. I moved to Chapel Hill in the summer of '63. I got involved with the Student Peace Union but didn't get involved in Civil Rights till a few months later. I was walking with Peter Leak, who was black, from a meeting in front of Graham Memorial to the Methodist Center where Lou Calhoun was to mimeograph some stuff we were bringing him. We passed by St. Anthony's Hall and glass shattered in front of me. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon my complacency was gone in a heart beat. The next shocking thing I remember is that on the day Kennedy was killed I was standing in front of a store on Franklin Street watching the news through the window and next thing I knew a parade of convertibles sailed down the street filled with people carrying confederate flags and shouting for joy. I got called a 'nigger lover' all the time at Chapel Hill High. I wore a CORE button and an upside down peace button. I went to meetings above the funeral parlor in Carrboro. Because I was underage John Donne, the leader, with Quentin Baker, Pat Cusick, and Lou Calhoun, had me do behind the scenes stuff, like notifying press and the cops at just the right moment before a sit in and trying to get national attention and help. I have many more memories. I wonder why I don't know you. Were you away a lot?
Sincerely, Kathy Fehl.

 

Bob Jurgensen      11:44 AM Sun 10/30/2011

Charlie,

I was wondering why you did not attend CH schools in your teen years and now I understand. I was there and remember some of those experiences, the school yard fights at lunch time, often over racial divides as I recall - we had two twin (or perhaps just brothers) black custodians at the Junior High on Franklin and they were big, burly guys - with arms the size of hams. They routinely waded into these fisticuffs and broke them up, many times as I recall. No one messed with these two guys... I don't remember there names but it was something like Nat or Nate for one of them and the other was something that rhymed with that. Perhaps someone who remembers them can chime in on this. But those two were pretty much our only interaction with black people other than our maids, which most people of influence had.

Does anyone remember the first black student at CHJH? I cannot recall his name - it's like it's on the tip of my tongue, but perhaps someone does know? I recall he was very popular and everyone liked him with the exception of a few of the hard core racist students - he was almost like a magnet in that he was so different he was almost exotic in his attraction of others. He would go sit on the stone wall out front after school and there would always be 5-6 perhaps 7 white girls sitting there talking to him (and upsetting the white boys, to say the least.) Does anyone recall his name? I think it started with an "M" but honestly I am not sure. I just remember how brave he was to volunteer - he was the only black student that year and he was so well received by most.

I was pretty much raised by a black maid for my grandmother until I was 6 or 7. My mother worked and my Little Red Schoolhouse session each day I would go straight to my grandmothers, across from the old police and fire station, on Rosemary St. Lilly was her name and she more or less raised me from newborn, best I can recall. I do have vivid recollections of her and her kindness - she genuinely love me. I went with her to the store, followed her around as she cared for my grandmother's home and as she made lunch and prepared dinner, before leaving for the day. My grandmother owned a beauty salon (Nonnie's Beauty Nook), an addition on the rear of her Sear's home that they build back in the 20's I think. The home is no longer there (parking lot) but it was right next door to a Frat house that is still there and my grandmother, singlehandedly and more than once, put an end to some out of control parties there. No one messed with Nonnie Bissell.

Lilly and I bonded over all those years and to this day I recall her smile and caring ways. She did however have a dark streak (no pun intended) when it came to Friday nights and weekends - My grandmother would not pay her on a weekend because if she did, she often would not show up for work on the following Monday, so she always paid her on Monday's. More than once she would show up on her front porch on a Friday or Saturday night, drunk and demanding her money. She would tell my grandmother "if I ever come for my money and I'm drunk, please don't give it to me" so my grandmother would refuse her and she would make a scene, cursing like a sailor as she stormed off to a car full of people (a Cadillac if I recall). If she showed up Monday, she was always happy my grandmother didn't giver her any money. I can recall more than once when she would not show up Monday my grandmother and I would take a ride to the "west end", down behind the car wash, to what I would call a "shanty town" of basically large tarpaper sheds sitting on cinder blocks, to find Lilly and get her to come to work. Almost without exception, there was a shiny new huge car, mostly Cadillacs and perhaps a few Lincolns, sitting in front of each shanty. My grandmother used to say the cars there were worth more than the houses!

Anyway, I wanted to give you some of MY background with racism in CH - and we did have plenty of it in the 60's but I was raised with the threat of a switch from a nearby bush if I ever used the "N" word; around my mother or grandmother, they would not tolerate it. More than once I got my legs switched for that word as a kid. Back then it was tossed around like any other word - in everyday language, but not in my house.

I so admired Dr King and his speech resonates to this day in my mind. While I wasn't at the Lincoln Memorial that day, I have visited it many times and thought of his speech. Oddly enough, the day after he was assassinated I reported for duty at my first assignment out of petty officer school from the US Coast Guard, to Washington DC. I arrived in DC via the 14th Street bridge that chilly morning in 1968 after driving 5 hours from CH to find the city on fire, smoke in every direction and thousands of armed National Guardsmen on duty on every corner. Coast Guard Headquarters, located at 14th and E, had almost every window busted out of it and huge rocks all over the sidewalk and inside the building. I was stunned, having not heard of his death; when I walked in I was told to leave immediately and go to a hotel in the suburbs and call in each day to see if I should report for duty. I sat in that hotel for nearly a week while things calmed down and the windows were replaced in our building. It gave me much time to reflect on his death and how it was not in vain, as well as reflect on all of his accomplishments.

I find it odd in some ways yet not so odd in others, that the three most inspirational people in the world I would have most wanted to meet in my lifetime and perhaps share a beer with are, oddly enough, three black men: Dr. Martin Luther King, Michael Jordan and Barack Obama. All three are on my bucket list. Not very likely I will ever get to meet Michael or Barack in person, (Dr King's speech that day is all I need but what a joy it would have been to actually meet him before he died) it would be to complete my life, right after marriage to the most wonderful woman in the world and my two delightful daughters, meeting them would make my life complete. Perhaps one day.


 

Christie Conlon      1:48 PM Sat 9/3/2011

Your heart and soul were in the right place at that time in history. You were a very strong young man, inwardly strong.
 

Debbiesnc      10:10 AM Thu 9/1/2011

Since this is my first time on here, thank you for doing this, thank you for showing "us" as we were and are, and for the opportunity to talk about it. That March on Washington must have been incredible; you were indeed brave; and, I believe that there were such , and probably are still many racists, KKK, around, its a big county! Hard to believe, because as we know, we are all the same inside in our spirit and soul. Peace!
 

Lauren Nelson      10:14 AM Fri 8/26/2011

I always thought Chapel Hill's liberal traditions went back well before the 1960s. I am surprised so few people were active in the civil rights movement then.
 

Bill A      6:02 PM Thu 8/25/2011

Charly,
The 60s were remarkable years; I had friends on both sides of the civil rights issue – but mostly conservatives - and was not as worldly as you at that time, even ‘tho 7 years older. August of 1963 would have been just b4 my junior year at Carolina. Frankly, it took 4 years in the Army, including Vietnam time, and moving around a bit to gain a more enlightened perspective on the inconsistencies of life for people of color and varying backgrounds. Growing up in High Point was great in many ways; however, it did not adequately prepare me to appreciate the big picture. That had to come later and is still a work in progress. Doesn't make me better or worse than my friends at that time - just perhaps a bit different these days.

 

Norman Jackson      5:19 PM Thu 8/25/2011

Actually .that's a skirt
 

Norman Jackson      5:17 PM Thu 8/25/2011

The lady with red hat and shirt, w/black pants, might be Rosemary Ezra.
 

Nancy Hess      3:00 PM Thu 8/25/2011

After reading your article I wondered if there were any 13-year-olds in Chapel Hill today that would do what you did. I admire your courage and how aware you were of the injustices in the United States.
 

Jean Tyler      6:16 AM Thu 8/25/2011

Does Chapel Hill still have a history museum? If they do these pictures should be included in an exhibit.
 

Lisa Isely      10:34 PM Wed 8/24/2011

Thank you Charly. I was generally ignorant to the racist side of Chapel Hill, until I left and came back. I love Chapel Hill, and it will always be my home. Thank you for shedding an honest and open light on this side of Chapel Hill.
 

Jim Harris      10:01 PM Wed 8/24/2011

I have been reading this blog for about a year. I can not believe all the things you have done and experienced. Did many other people you know from your generation accomplish as much as you?
 

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Bite Sized Facts Link



Chapel Hill is located on a hill whose only distinguishing feature in the 18th century was a small chapel on top called New Hope Chapel. This church was built in 1752 and is currently the location of The Carolina Inn. The town was founded in 1819, and chartered in 1851.

 

 

What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.

-- Charles Kuralt

 

 

Dark Side of the Hill -- Pink Floyd, the creators of the most popular album in history, Dark Side of the Moon, took the second half of their name from Floyd Council, a Chapel Hill native, and great blues singer and guitarist. He once belonged to a group called "The Chapel Hillbillies".

 

 

Check out Charly Mann's other website:
Oklahoma Birds and Butterflies

http://oklahomabirdsandbutterflies.com

 



We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

There would probably be no Chapel Hill if the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees in 1793 had not chosen land across from New Hope Chapel for the location of the university. By 1800 there were about 100 people living in thirty houses surrounding the campus.

 

 

The University North Carolina's first student was Hinton James, who enrolled in February, 1795. There is now a dormitory on the campus named in his honor.

 

 

 

 

The University of North Carolina was closed from 1870 to 1875 because of lack of state funding.

 

 

 

 

William Ackland left his art collection and $1.25 million to Duke University in 1940 on the condition that he would be buried in the art museum that the University was to build with his bequest. Duke rejected this condition even though members of the Duke Family are buried in Duke Chapel. What followed was a long and acrimonious legal battle between Ackland relatives who now wanted the inheritance, Rollins College, and the University of North Carolina, each attempting to receive the funds. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1949 UNC was awarded the money for the museum. Ackland is buried near the museum's entrance. When the museum first opened, in the early sixties, there were rumors that his remains were leaking out of the mausoleum.

 

 

The official name of the Arboretum on the University of North Carolina campus is the Coker Arboretum. It is named after Dr. William Cocker, the University's first botany professor. It occupies a little more than five acres. It was founded in 1903.

 

 

Chapel Hill's main street has always been called Franklin Street. It was named after Benjamin Franklin in the early 1790s.

 

 



We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.

 

 

Chapel Hill High School and Chapel Hill Junior High were on Franklin Street in the same location as University Square until the mid 1960s.

 

 

The Colonial Drug Store at 450 West Franklin Street was owned and operated by John Carswell. It was famous for a fresh-squeezed carbonated orange beverage called a "Big O". In the early 1970s, I managed the Record and Tape Center next door, and must have had over 100 of those drinks. The Colonial Drug Store closed in 1996.

 

 

Sutton's Drugstore, which opened in 1923, has one of the last soda fountains in the South. It is one of the few businesses remaining on Franklin Street that was in operation when I was growing up in the 1950s.

 

 

Future President Gerald Ford lived in Chapel Hill twice. First when he was 24, in 1938, he took a law couse in summer school at UNC. He lived in the Carr Building, which was a law school dormitory. At the same time, Richard Nixon, the man he served under as Vice President, was attending law school at Duke. In 1942, Ford returned to Chapel Hill to attend the U.S. Navy's Pre-Flight School training program. He lived in a rental house on Hidden Hills Drive.

 

 

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