Mississippians Remember March on WashingtonBy Lawayne Childrey | Published 28 Aug 2013 06:00am |
People across Mississippi are joining the rest of the country today in commemorating an important milestone in the American civil rights movement, the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
Some Mississippians who took part in the march still vividly recall and share their perspective 50 years later.
It was a massive peaceful protest in Washington DC where more than 200,000 demonstrators from across the country called on congress for jobs and freedom. Hollis Watkins of Jackson was 22 years old in 1963.
He served as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) which was known for confronting segregation by the use of protest and "freedom rides." Watkins says his group helped charter hundreds of buses for Mississippians to make the pilgrimage to D.C.
"The spirit was extremely high, people saw themselves being able to get something positive from Congress, 'We're going to do it, we're coming together, we have the power to make these things happen, we're going to see that they happen,' so the spirit was very, very upbeat," describes Watkins.
Ineva Mae Pittman attended the 1963 march and recalls the exciting yet cautious trip to Washington, D.C.
While the journey to the historic march may have been jubilant. Ineva Mae Pittman, a former Jackson school teacher and member of the Mississippi NAACP says part of the ride there was also frightening.
"You could just feel that atmosphere of resistance because we had to go through other Southern states that were almost as, if not more racist than Mississippi."
Pittman recalls an incident that happened during a rest stop in a Trail-ways bus terminal.
"One young man that was with us, was sitting at the counter and one of those White guys came up and hit him and he had a big knot over his eye. But at that time, the ministers called the Justice Department to alert the Justice Department to what was going on and the need for them to provide whatever safety for us that they could, but that didn't dampen our spirits," continues Pittman.
Culminating the march Dr Martin Luther King Jr. led the countries charge to win civil rights and equality for all when he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" Speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Pittman vividly recalls her memories of that day.
"The crowd just went wild," describes Pittman. "You saw men, grown men crying as he was speaking because he spoke truth to power, and he was encouraging them. They knew where they came from and the situation that they came from and this was just what they needed."
One of those deeply inspired by King's speech is Rev. John Cameron, Pastor of Greater Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Jackson.
"When he said, this country must live out the creed that it promised to have for all citizens and to me, that was a real motivation and not something new but to uphold the Constitution which every citizen supposed to do, and he did not ask for any special treatment but that all people would be treated equally," says Cameron.
Rev. John Cameron attended the march and says work is still needed to assure that Dr. King's dream is realized.
Still the question many are asking is whether Dr. Kings Dream has been fully realized? Hollis Watkins believes the answer is "no."
"Fifty years today, we find people in this country are attempting to put stumbling blocks in the path of Black and poor people that are attempting to register to vote," he says.
Watkins also says one of the biggest problems today remains the lack of quality education for African-Americans.
"So to talk about us having realized that dream, apparently, the people went to sleep and are having a nightmare," continues Watkins.
Even though signs of racial progress are obvious with the two term election of President Barack Obama. Rev. Cameron, Pastor of Greater Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, doesn't believe its a clear sign that America has reached the mountain top that King so eloquently spoke about in his speech.
"The hoods are off, but the activity still goes on in two and three piece suits, you will be denied loans at the bank, you will be denied promotions on jobs, by saying you are either overly qualified or not qualified enough, yet people are hired who do not have your qualifications. So I think this is our new thrust, we have not arrived yet, but we are on our way," continues Cameron.
Many civil rights leaders believe the recent the Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has spurred debate about how much more has to be done in terms of race relations.
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