By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
Sixty years ago, 500 Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, Md. residents were foot soldiers in the 1963 March on Washington. Activists traveled to the nation’s capital and joined more than 200,000 of their fellow citizens to champion jobs and freedom for African Americans.
To commemorate the historical event, the Caucus of African American Leaders (CAAL) in collaboration with the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, held a celebration in Annapolis, Md. on Aug. 26.
The event featured a march reenactment from Navy-Marine Corps Stadium to Annapolis City Dock and a formal program with distinguished speakers. David Wilson, Ed.D, president of Morgan State University, delivered a keynote address. The historically Black university’s marching band led the march.
“The focus is to get people to understand that what happened 60 years ago is a part of an ongoing struggle. Some of the same issues that we dealt with 60 years ago, like police brutality, jobs, justice and freedom, remain an issue for us today,” said Carl Snowden, convener of the CAAL. “The idea is to energize, mobilize and organize the community to make it crystal clear that there’s going to be a referendum on Martin Luther King’s dream. Everything that Dr. King was advocating for will be on the ballot.”
During the event, attendees were given the opportunity to register to vote. They also heard from a slate of speakers who addressed economic opportunity, the protection of Black women, criminal justice reform and voting rights.
Kaye Wise Whitehead, radio host of Today with Dr. Kaye, discussed the influential role of Black women in the 1963 March on Washington and broader Civil Rights Movement. She highlighted prominent figures like Dorothy I. Height, Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Coretta Scott King and Angela Davis.
“Black women have saved the world time and time again. This system was built on our backs and prospered through our wounds, and yet we chose to survive,” said Whitehead. “We have their blood, tenacity, strength, courage and vision running through us.”
Wilson began his keynote address by sharing where he was during the 1963 March on Washington. He was a second grader living in a run-down shanty in rural Alabama with his nine brothers and sisters.
His home did not have electricity, so he walked to his uncle’s house to watch the march on the television.
“I’m sitting there, and I’m mesmerized by the words of Dr. King. I am inspired by the words of John Lewis, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson and all of the speakers that came forward,” said Wilson. “When Dr. King spoke about having a dream, little David was sitting there saying, ‘I have a dream too. I want to get out of these circumstances.’”
The speech became the inspiration for Wilson to become the first person in his family to attend college, a goal he achieved in 1973. Today, it reminds him of his responsibility in encouraging young people to realize their own dreams.
“I am responsible for carrying those dreams forward in transformational ways.
] take the students at Morgan as they enter, but will not graduate them as they came,” said Wilson.
The event also honored 20 individuals who participated in the 1963 March on Washington. They received citations from Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman.
One marcher, Barbara Booker Wood, was 21 years old when she attended the civil rights protest. She had recently had her second child and moved to D.C. with her husband.
The 81-year-old grew up in rural Virginia during the times of racial segregation. She remembered often seeing signs at Greyhound bus stations and restaurants that said “colored only.” She also attended segregated schools from elementary to high school.
“I heard Dr. King was going to be in this great march, and I said to my mother and husband, ‘Would you all take care of the children? I am going to this march,’” said Wood. “Based on what I had experienced growing up and all of the unfairness, I decided to go along with some co-workers. We walked down to the mall to be a part of it, and never had I been in a crowd of so many people.”
Wood said she always wondered why her community was forced to be segregated.
“I thought if I could be a part of the march maybe I could help—in some small way— to right the wrongs that I experienced growing up in Chesterfield County, Va.,” said Wood.
Although on a smaller scale, Wood said the Annapolis commemoration was wonderful. She also enjoyed meeting other 1963 marchers.
“The reason we need to continue marching is because Dr. King’s dream has not been fulfilled. We have made progress with women’s rights and some civil rights issues, but we still have a long way to go,” said Wood. “It appears that some of our accomplishments are being turned back or are trying to be turned back. We have to continue what Dr. King set forth to do.”
Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.