We Were There: Memories of the March on Washington

They planned and organized, led and inspired. From Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez to John Lewis and Julian Bond, 17 participants in the March on Washington recall that historic day

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HOROWITZ: It is also a mark of Bayard's commitment to nonviolence and his organizing ability that at some point he realized that New York City policemen were required to carry their guns 24 hours a day. He said, Nobody is bringing a gun to this march. And he went to see Mayor Wagner or whoever the police authority was, and for that one day, New York City policemen were allowed to leave their guns home. The Justice Department also offered him the Army, the police, anything he wanted. And he said, No, if you want to do anything here, keep your troops on the periphery of the crowd and keep them watching for counterdemonstrators. We will monitor ourselves. You worry about provocateurs, racists, Klan members.


Co-founder, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

The city of Washington almost went crazy. They canceled all elective surgery. They put surgeons and doctors on full time, waiting for something bad to happen. They put policemen on 18-hour shifts. They just went out of the way to prepare for what they thought would be some kind of massive riot. They couldn't imagine this many black people coming together without some awful, awful disturbance in the streets.

HOROWITZ: Somebody at the National Council or the Red Cross said that the sandwiches had to be peanut butter and jelly. And Bayard came back to a staff meeting, and he said, O.K., we're writing this manual, and we have to tell people to bring peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, no mayonnaise. Somebody said, But Bayard--And he said, This is not debatable! It became this sine qua non. Clearly what everybody was worried about was that you didn't want egg salad and mayonnaise spoiling on the road and people getting sick.

AVERY: We were there a week ahead of time, so they put us to work. Our job was to put together those signs. All of those signs that you see in the film clips--it was our job to staple them and put them together, then take them over to the parade grounds and unload them. I would imagine I probably touched every last one of those signs in some fashion or form. We probably put together, I don't know, 10,000 or more before we got to the parade ground. And of course, that morning people started coming in, and those signs were gone in a few minutes, and we had to get to work again putting more signs together.

BELAFONTE: In my instruction to my fellow artists when we met several times discussing strategy for what to do, I said, The more we can find ourselves in the heart of the people gathered at the event, the more we are seen and identified with the everyday citizen, the more we are all linking arms together, not just celebrity to celebrity but a truck driver, a dentist or a housewife, and we're all linking arms together, the more powerful that imagery becomes. My task was to make sure that we salt-and-peppered the afternoon into the early evening to look that way.

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