- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Barbara Blackburn was 22 years old when she hopped in a cab as the sun rose on Aug. 28, 1963, and headed toward the Lincoln Memorial.

She was one of about 250,000 people on the Mall that historic day 50 years ago to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and inspire a peaceful civil rights revolution. On Wednesday, President Obama is set to lead a celebrity-studded anniversary event at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the march, while in Annapolis a granite memorial dedicated to the “foot soldiers” of the civil rights rally, like Ms. Blackburn, will be unveiled.

The celebrations are a stark contrast to that day a half-century ago, when Ms. Blackburn remembers a quiet city — liquor stores were closed and D.C. police stood close watch over the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. All around her, people spoke in hushed tones about what the day might bring.

“It was an atmosphere of wonder. It was an atmosphere of awe,” said Ms. Blackburn, a retired Maryland teacher. “People were so happy to be there. It’s just a day you will never forget.”

King’s words from that day are etched into monuments across the country, but now a Maryland man has spearheaded an effort to erect a memorial for the 250,000 people who attended the march during a volatile time in U.S. history.

“These are the men and women who came from around the country — butchers, barbers, beauticians, farmers, they were everyday people,” said Carl Snowden, chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee in Annapolis. “Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a wonderful, eloquent speech, but the day has been framed in his personality. Dr. King would be the first to tell you — no matter how eloquent he was — had the crowd not attended, his speech would not have any impact whatsoever on this nation.”


SEE ALSO: King’s dream: Looking back, marching forward for a new generation


The $50,000 memorial is at the intersection of Clay and Calvert streets in Annapolis, across from a bus terminal used by residents to travel to the march.

The monument is comprised of three large granite tablets. One tablet describes the purpose of the memorial, while another will be etched with the names of 500 of what organizers refer to as the “foot soldiers” of the movement — a random sampling of those who attended the march. The third tablet will display a photograph of King addressing the thousands of people gathered between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

Among them was Gwen Day Fuller, an 18-year-old Hampton University student who took a bus from her family’s home in Alexandria.

“It was just a very exciting time,” said the 30-year veteran teacher who still lives in Alexandria. “So many things were happening, so many feelings I had about racial issues living in a house with a father who was always involved in working hard to make a change.”

Growing up, Ms. Fuller said she faced segregation every day, whether it was separate bathrooms at a restaurant, having to take a bus into the District to go roller-skating because the rink near her home would not allow her to enter, or knowing she could not stop in a coffee shop for hot chocolate on a cold night.

“It was just a sense of this is a time of possibility,” Ms. Fuller said, recalling the feeling of standing near the Reflecting Pool on that August day.

Marc Apter was an 18-year-old college student in 1963.

Recruited by his father, who was performing public relations for the march, Mr. Apter worked as a runner.

“I took press releases and drafts of speeches from the press tent at the base of the speaker’s podium,” Mr. Apter said. “Basically I was running up and down all day. But if I was interested in what was going on, I’d stop and participate. When King started his speech, even though he was the last speaker and wasn’t so famous at the time, everybody stopped to pay attention.”

Mr. Apter remembered a feeling of nervousness and anticipation.

“There was a lot of discussion about the potential risks of personal harm being bandied about,” he said, emphasizing another reason why the turnout that day was so important.

“If King was talking to 10,000 people, he wouldn’t have changed history,” Mr. Apter said. “The fact 250,000 was one of the largest gatherings in the history of Washington — that made the difference.”

That difference is what Mr. Snowden and his committee is hoping to honor with the memorial.

Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat who spoke at the 1963 march, is one of the names on the memorial. He said he was proud to be a part of it because it honors the “ordinary citizens who risked the threat of personal harm to magnify the impact of the words of the civil rights leaders who spoke that day.”

To be sure, King was an integral part of the civil rights movement, Mr. Snowden said. His committee previously led the effort to erect the only memorial dedicated to King in Maryland in 2005 and a memorial to the civil rights leader’s late wife, Coretta Scott King, that was dedicated in 2011.

“If you have a memorial to foot soldiers, it goes with Dr. King’s theme that anybody can be great because anybody can serve,” Mr. Snowden said. “What we want to do is make sure that ordinary people understand that while it’s great to have Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and countless other personalities, the reality is it’s everyday people who bring about fundamental change.”

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