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.
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.)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.