But his wife, Grace, has died, their daughters are grown, and Price, 81, is retired. “I decided that on my way out of this life, I can contribute to the people I’ll leave behind. … It’s like the police say: I have ‘means, opportunity and motive,’ ” he said.
That motive took root in Price’s childhood, born as he was “in the teeth of Jim Crow.”
“Separate water fountains. Back of the bus. Colored side of the diner. No voting without intimidation,” he said.
Because violent racism pervaded his youth, Price wasn’t shocked when an African American boy was murdered 65 years ago Friday, not far from Price’s Mississippi home. Emmett Till was 14, just two years younger than Price was.
Price regrets that for all the racial progress achieved in the ensuing decades, so much work remains to be done. “When I was a kid, racism was on top of the table, all right? … Down through the years, because of laws and demonstrations like this, they can’t do that to us out in the open anymore,” he said. “But the problem hasn’t been removed from the system. It’s not on top of the table now — it’s under the table. It’s still there.”
The crowd was sparser at Friday’s “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” March on Washington than at the 1963 gathering that drew hundreds of thousands to the Mall. The nearly six decades since also have brought with them hard-won legislative victories: the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act and more, as millions of Black Americans have enjoyed greater freedom and prosperity.
D.C. has also changed markedly. In 1963, the city was governed by three White male commissioners before the Home Rule Act of 1973 gave D.C. residents a greater say in their governance. Today, the city’s mayor, Muriel E. Bowser, is African American, as were her six predecessors.
And yet the parallels between 1963 and now are also in relief as change to the status of Black Americans has stubbornly failed to keep up with time. The 2020 march’s themes of police brutality, voting rights and legislative action echoed the speeches of 1963.
“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. “… We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.”
Just like their predecessors, the organizers of the 2020 march are pushing for legislation to rein in police and protect voting rights.
Many at Friday’s march voiced a sense of time collapsing amid fresh protests roiling the nation over police killings of unarmed Black men, fears of voter suppression in November and an increase in acts of racial hatred across the nation. They saw no clear demarcation between the dismal past and the present but a continuous line of struggle — sometimes hopeful, sometimes marked by despair.
Carol Moore was 6 in 1968 when the murder of another Black man was seared into her memory. That man was Martin Luther King Jr.
Moore, who was born in 1962, lived in Southeast Washington at the time. The rioting that followed the civil rights leader’s assassination that April and destroyed large swaths of the nation’s capital is Moore’s oldest memory of the cost of the nation’s racial divisions.
“The area we lived in, the police were throwing tear gas, and I remember my eyes, I was crying,” said Moore, 58, as she sat with her grown daughter on a bench Friday. “I can still remember that — my father picking me up and carrying me. Me crying, him holding onto me, running and running.”
Growing up, Moore said she experienced and witnessed acts of racism, both subtle and overt, and wondered whether she would ever live in a world much different from her father’s. When Alonda Moore, her daughter, was a teenager, Carol Moore warned her to be careful as a Black person in America.
“My mother had a big impact on me, from what she saw when she was young,” said Alonda Moore, 23. “If I ever encounter the police, she told me what to do to get home safe. She told me there’d be people following me in stores, and that’s happened, them following me, even though, of course, I had money.”
After a Black man, George Floyd, was killed in police custody in Minneapolis in May, and anti-racism protests spread around the globe, Carol and Alonda Moore heard about the 57th anniversary march being planned and knew instantly that they would make the trip here from their home in Greensboro, N.C.
“It was the killing of a Black man that caused that riot” in her girlhood, she pointed out. “I’ve remembered that day ever since. Now, they elected [President] Barack Obama, and that was a progression. But nothing’s changed, really, I don’t think. It was the killing of a Black man that caused everything going on now. Black men and Black women — don’t forget the women. They’re all dying.”
As Marlon Robinson listened to speakers at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, he viewed the historic moment through the prism of how he’s been classified as an American throughout life.
When he was 5 and 6, the 65-year-old remembers being referred to legally as “colored” growing up in New York’s South Bronx. He remembers that in fourth and fifth grade he checked a box that said “Negro.” In 1968 and ’69, he was told to give his race as “Black.” In the early 1970s, it was “Afro American,” and in the 1980s, it was “African American.”
When Barack Obama was elected president, Robinson said people told him it was all over; America was now colorblind. Then Americans elected Donald Trump — a “charlatan,” he said, who came to turn back the clock.
“I’m not going back to being colored again,” he said.
Robinson, a retired New York transit mechanic, said that as he watches police shootings of unarmed Black men unfold on cellphone video, he remembers the smile on a security guard’s face when he was a child.
In the 1960s, his mother had taken him on a bus south from New York to visit relatives in Newport News, Va. After their arrival, he ran to a water fountain to get a drink after the long trip.
As he bent over, he noticed a security guard walking toward him. In an instant, he felt his mom slap him and yank him out of the way. She told him in an urgent tone ‘You can’t drink out of there’. He looked back at the guard, who had stopped approaching them and noticed a smile had crossed his face.
“I didn’t know what Jim Crow was,” Robinson said. But soon enough he did and has long since been aware of how others fought and died to bring him and other Black Americans to this point. He attended the march, he said, to make sure time is not rolled back.
By some accounts, Friday’s crowd was considerably more African American than those atthe waves of protests against police brutality this spring and summer. Certainly, the event’s clear connection with the civil rights movement was a draw to many who journeyed here.
Fronce Wardlaw, 58, had come from Fredericksburg, Va., to the Lincoln Memorial with her 17-year-old daughter, Erin, carrying memories of Erin’s grandfather fighting for racial justice. He was part of the lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C., and took part in the 1963 March. The lesson Fronce Wardlaw took from her father was this: “Whatever it took. If they got pulled off the chairs they went back on. If people spit on em, they stood there. If they got sprayed, they just took it. You know how when water is hot it boils? That’s what’s happening now. You can’t get out of your car or watch TV — someone could come shoot you. . . . You can only kick a dog so much before it bites,” she said.
Erin Wardlaw noted that photos of the 1963 march look historical because they’re in black and white. “Otherwise it looks just like today,’ she said.
Lorre Ellingberg wasn’t on the Mall in 1963 to witness King speak the words that would go down in history. Ellingberg, 72, was a teenager in Oakland when she watched the event on television. This time, she flew from her home in California, despite her asthma and fear of covid-19. Her son and niece rolled her about in a wheelchair, oxygen tubes attached to her face, before the family found a spot near the White House where she could listen away from the risky crowd. King’s words seemed to call across time to her, its awe-inspiring message resounding today. Watching King’s grainy image on the television as a 16-year-old, she thought:
“Someone stood up. Someone . . . that people would listen to actually told us, back then, that Black lives mattered.”
Samantha Schmidt contributed to this report.