50 Years Later, Another March on Washington — and New History Being Made
Fifty years ago, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom signaled a major turning point in the civil rights movement. The nonviolent rally by hundreds of thousands of protestors, led by Martin Luther King Jr., put the issue of racial equality front and center in the American consciousness — and helped convince Congress to pass both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act within two years.
It was a seminal moment not just for African-Americans but for the entire country’s history, one that a group of Georgia State students helped preserve this past weekend. The students attended the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, met with United States Rep. John Lewis — and recorded the stories of some of the original marchers as part of the “I Was (T)Here Exchange Oral History Project,” an effort by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
The center, which will open a 20,000-square-foot facility in Centennial Olympic Park next spring, took applications for inclusion in the project and brought 20 students to Washington, 16 of whom attended Georgia State. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says senior Charis Hanner. “Since I’m a journalism major, I love interviewing people, and it was exciting to be a part of it.”
In hearing about the experiences of the original marchers, Heather Davis, a graduate student in social work at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, said she was struck by just how peaceful the ’63 event was — even with as many as 300,000 protestors crowding the National Mall.
“Leading up to the March for Jobs and Freedom, people had been doing marches and sit-ins and things like that to get the government’s attention, but it was also very peaceful,” she says. “When it was proposed to do a march on Washington, there was some hesitation, because anytime you talk about a march that big there’s a sense that there might be unrest or violence.
“But it was done in the most peaceful way,” she explains. “There was so much dignity to it. They made it a point to make sure there was peace, to make sure the message was very up-front — and to make sure people knew they weren’t going to respond with violence to the violence that was inflicted upon them.”
As a recipient of the Jean Childs Young Fellowship — named for the late wife of former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and endowed by one of Young’s campaign managers — Heather says she felt doubly privileged to participate. “When I was applying for the fellowship, I researched Andrew Young and his wife, and she was very active not only in civil rights but also education reform,” she says. “It’s great to see how his whole family has been so instrumental in the civil rights movement both in Atlanta and across the nation.”
Charis, who’s receiving scholarship funds through Georgia State’s Center for International Business Education and Research, says it’s important for current students to remember how the efforts of the original civil rights marchers are still affecting their lives for the better.
“One woman I interviewed told me she was denied admission to Georgia State 50 years ago because the schools were still segregated then,” she says. “And the reason she marched was so that students of all races could go to Georgia State today.”
Project participants from Georgia State
Latasha Arnold-Washington, senior, public policy
Olufemi Bab-Oke, senior, journalism/public relations
Jennifer Blackburn, graduate student, marketing
Alexis Carthorn, junior, film and journalism
Melissa Cruz, senior, English/women’s gender and sexuality studies
Heather Davis, graduate student, social work
Alfonzo Dixon, junior, journalism
Nimi Feghobo, junior, accounting
Charis Hanner, senior, journalism and telecommunication
Christian Hill, senior, public policy (project coordinator)
Alexandria Okeke, junior, women’s gender and sexuality studies
Jovan Paige, junior, public policy
Samantha Schiboiwsi, junior, journalism
Jeanette Sirb, sophomore, studio art
Lydia Smith, senior, public policy
Eugenie Stevenson, senior, public policy