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

  • Share
  • Read Later

(8 of 10)

MARCUS WOOD: When we were in seminary together, King would walk around the hall preaching. He had more experience in preaching than some of us, although I was nine years older than he was and pastoring a small church in West Virginia. But when he became very popular, he called us together and said, You all must stick by me, for I am going to dismantle this society. And we would jokingly say to him, King, if you try to dismantle this society that we're in now, somebody's going to shoot you. Somebody's going to bring you down, because society is so ingrained with segregation. The culture has been born into segregation, and therefore it's not going to change.

JONES: I'm standing on the platform about 50 feet behind him, and he is introduced by A. Philip Randolph in this sonorous voice: "At this time, I have the honor to present to you the moral leader of our nation. I have the pleasure to present to you Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." The place goes crazy! I mean it's just like an explosion of approval. I'm looking at the audience as he's looking at them. Then as he's speaking, Mahalia Jackson, who had performed earlier on the program and who was his favorite gospel singer, interrupted him: "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin. Tell 'em about the dream."

I'm watching him from the back. He takes the text of the speech that he was reading, and he moves it to the side of the lectern. And then he grabs both sides of the lectern, and I say to the person standing next to me--whoever that was--I said, These people don't know it, but they're about ready to go to church.



I think it's when he starts to talk about the dream that like the greatest jazz musician, he just does an incredible solo.

BOND: His ability to summon from his memory and deviate from his written text was just remarkable to me. I make speeches all the time. I can't do without a piece of paper in front of me. But he could just draw these ideas, draw these images, paint these pictures. It was just a remarkable performance. I've never seen anything as good as this ever, and I doubt if I ever will.


Freedom Rider

You know, at bottom, Dr. King is a musician. And if he was reciting the telephone book, the rhythms and transition to phrasing would bring you to an emotional acceptance.

AVERY: I get goose bumps when I think about it. He was at his best. That's all I can say. But in his talking, and my mind wandering back to what I had been through that summer, and when he started talking about his children, I felt like, Wow, he's talking about me. He's talking to me.

ROBINSON: We listened very carefully to the words as if they were almost like instructions. We all wanted to do something, and we wanted to have goals that we were going to work toward. And the speech gave a lot of ideas in terms of that. It wasn't just a spiritual thing. It was also very informative and instructive. We were looking for leadership, and he was offering it.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10