It was a message that resonated with Brianna Patterson.
“We weren’t alive 50 years ago when it happened,” said Patterson, 20, who lives in Prince George’s County. “Fifty years from now, we can look back and tell our children we were at the 50th anniversary March on Washington. We are keeping the dream alive.”
Mississippi native Minnie Wright was alive during that troubled era. She remembered that her mother taught her not to internalize the racism she experienced as a child growing up in the Deep South.
“There were certain places that ‘knew how to handle their blacks,’ where you knew to keep your eyes straight ahead” because eye contact with whites was likely to spark confrontation, said Wright, 56.
She recalled watching the original march on a black-and-white television — grasping at 6 years old that it was a big deal, but not understanding why.
Charles Randolph-Wright remembered listening to King’s speech in the basement of his cousin’s house in York, S.C.
“That was the center of activity, not just for our family, but all the budding activists in town,” recalled Randolph-Wright, a playwright in residence at Arena Stage. “I was young and did not realize a movement was starting, but I knew something changed from that day.”
He went on: “Hearing that speech opened the door for us to fight, crawl, push and do whatever we had to do to make it through. I cannot help but imagine the disappointment King would have in seeing how polarized this nation has become. In many ways, I feel we have regressed, but then I see someone who looks like me in the White House and I talk to children whose only image of a president is a man of color, and I am so very grateful.”
Patricia Bent of Charlotte also remembered watching the original march on television. “We can’t take steps back,” she said. “People fought too long for voting rights. People died. We can’t sit back and let their work have no meaning.”
Clarence Ellington was born three years after the 1963 march and grew up hearing about how his father had struggled in segregated South Carolina.
“I’m here for my kids, so they can step up and know how my father, my grandfather and my great-grandmother struggled,” said Ellington, who brought his two children.
The Rev. Stephen C. Holton, an Episcopal priest from New York, said the Trayvon Martin verdict in Florida was a sign of continued racial injustice in America.
“It’s clear that we need to keep on marching,” said Holton, 53, who joined a contingent of marchers from the Washington National Cathedral.
Martin’s death, at 17, and the acquittal of the man who shot him were much on the mind of Angela Hatley, who came by bus from New Haven, Conn., with her 83-year-old mother, Theorene Redic.