A dream recalled

January 14, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

None of them had any way of knowing that one single event - the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington - would help change the course of history.

But Tri-State residents, who were among the estimated 250,000 to attend the march, felt its impact and hoped to bring about change back home.

As the nation prepares to celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, local residents who attended the march reflect on the civil rights movement and King's dream of racial equality.

"I think (King) was trying to tell those of us who were marching we couldn't give up," said James Tolbert, 74, of Charles Town, W.Va., who heard King deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech at the march.


Tolbert is now president of the West Virginia Chapter of the NAACP.

Jimica Kenyatta, 79, of Charles Town, rode a bus to Washington from New York, his home at the time. He was critical of King's push toward racial integration and, instead, felt black people ought to focus on self-empowerment - something he feels that still needs to be addressed.

"We need to find some way to keep kids from this self-destructive culture of drugs and guns," said Kenyatta, a local historian.

Russell Williams attended the march as a college student from University of Rochester (N.Y).

"What brought all those people there? They all had an aversion to the way society was," said Williams, 64, of Hagerstown. "(King) was able to articulate the needs of the population. That's why his speech stood out."

James Tolbert photographed this view of the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington. He attended on behalf of the Jefferson County (W.Va.) Civic League, a group that fought discrimination in Jefferson County. At the time, Tolbert said, black people had to enter the back door in order to eat at restaurants in Jefferson County and surrounding areas - assuming the businesses served black people at all. But things were different at the march. "Buses, buses and more buses," Tolbert said. "I had never seen so many black people at once in my life."

Tolbert said he was too far away to see the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he delivered his now-famous "I Have a Dream" speech, but he was able to hear it.

Russell Williams of Hagerstown hung on to the September 1963 edition of Life magazine about the March on Washington that August.

"The irony is that King wasn't even supposed to be the big speaker that day," said Williams, who attended the March as a student member of the Congress of Racial Equality.

The cover features A. Philip Randolph, at left, and Bayard Rustin, who had originally proposed a march in Washington, D.C., in 1941 but were unsuccessful. The two were leading organizers of the 1963 march.

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