Fifty years ago today, on August 28, 1963, my father-in-law, the late Dr. Edwin C. Gilmore, joined nearly 300,000 others at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Holding a sign that read, “We Demand Voting Rights Now!,” he marched with his brothers-in-law and friends and listened to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Fifty years later, this past Saturday, August 24, his son Gregory Gilmore, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters walked in his footsteps at the 50th anniversary March on Washington. An interracial family walking among a crowd of people of all ages and colors—it was a truly memorable day for my family.
When we planned our family trip to Washington DC, we weren’t aware that the anniversary march was scheduled. When we realized that the events were taking place during our visit, we thought it would be best to just go take a look from the outskirts to avoid the crowds with our young children. We hailed a cab to get us as close to the Lincoln Memorial as possible. Getting out at 21st and Constitution Avenue, we saw the news vans and crowd and the importance of what was happening became clear. We needed to share this experience with our daughters.
Many roads and entryways to the National Mall were closed off. Starting from 21st and Constitution Avenue, we joined the crowds on a narrow street making our way to 17th street, the only way in the the National Mall. The kids were getting tired and cranky, not really understanding why we were just walking. But once we finally made our way in and they saw so many signs and television crews, they started to understand that this was a momentous event.
When the Lincoln Memorial finally came into sight, we all felt the power and importance of retracing the footsteps of those who walked before us in a time before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and (very meaningful for my family) the Loving v. Virginia case, which declared anti-miscegenation laws a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was a time when no one imagined that an African-American (biracial just like our daughters) president would lead our country.
We explained to our daughters that the feeling and atmosphere was different fifty years ago. That things were much more difficult for Black people in 1963. And that they owe so much to those who marched and gave their lives before them, so that they could have the life they live today.
However, we were reminded that the words of Martin Luther King III rang true, “The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more, ” when my girls asked who the boy wearing the hoodie was on posters carried my many. We had to explain the story of Trayvon Martin, something we hadn’t done before because of their ages. But it felt like there was no time better than that day to do so.
We were reminded by Rep. John Lewis, an original marcher, who said “I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us. You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down. You’ve got to stand up. Speak up, speak out and get in the way.”
We were reminded by local Newark Mayor, Cory Booker who said ”Me and my generation cannot now afford to sit back consuming all of our blessings, getting dumb, fat and happy thinking we have achieved our freedoms.”
We were reminded by the very words that Dr. King spoke on August 28, 1963:
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights: “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only.”
We cannot be satisfied and we will not 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. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Today from 11 am – 4 pm, The Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action Ceremony will close the anniversary events. It will take place at the Lincoln Memorial. President Obama and Presidents Clinton and Carter will be the featured speakers. At 3 pm, there will be a bell-ringing ceremony marking the time that Dr. King delivered his famous address.
We’re back in Montclair, but my family will be watching.