Faculty Have Expertise in, and Experience of March on Washington
August 27, 2013 – Georgetown history professor Maurice Jackson, who will soon appear in a PBS documentary about the 1963 March on Washington, remembers the harsh, violent realities of racial injustice that year, but also the hope the Aug. 28 march provided the nation.
“The murder of Emmett Till was still fresh in the minds of many, and shortly after the March you had the church bombing in Birmingham that killed four little girls,” says Jackson, who in 1963 was a child living in segregated, rural Alabama. “After the march, people started going South more to see what was going on, and foreign newspapers began showing what was happening. People started to realize kids were being beaten and doused with water from fire hoses.”
Jackson will appear in the documentary, Meet Me at Equality: The People’s March on Washington, with fellow Georgetown history professor Marcia Chatelain. The documentary airs locally on Aug. 28-31.
People across the nation have been commemorating the 50th anniversary of the march with events that began last week and will culminate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28.
America at its Best
Faculty member Rev. Raymond Kemp participated in the 1963 march as a 23-year-old seminary student.
“I had just graduated from college, knew race was the issue and thought that jobs and justice were important,” recalls Kemp, now an adjunct professor in the theology department and the McDonough School of Business. “I was taken by the diversity of the marchers, the age spread, the peace and general good cheer. It was America at its best.”
He says most of the speeches were what he expected at a demonstration for justice and jobs until King stepped up to speak.
Tell Them About the Dream
“[Singer] Mahalia Jackson shouted, ‘Tell them about the dream, Martin,’ ” Kemp recalls of the moment before the iconic speech. “The ['I Have a Dream' speech] changed my whole understanding of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights along with most of the meaning of the Scripture for me.”
Kemp teaches the courses Struggle and Transcendence as well as The Church and the Poor at Georgetown.
No Time for Complacency
The university’s Healy Hall bells will join a chorus ringing around the world Wednesday at 3 p.m., the minute after King originally delivered one of his most powerful speeches, "I Have a Dream."
Students will read from the steps of Healy excerpts of King's speech, which was delivered 50 years ago during the march.
“I know it’s the first day of classes, but I hope members of the university community will take time to mark the special occasion of this anniversary and the unity that it inspired,” Jackson says. “It’s also an opportunity to reflect on what more can be done to continue the work the movement started. There’s no time for complacency.”
Marcia Chatelain, who has taught classes on African-American history and on women in the civil rights movement, says she is glad to be part of the civil rights generation speaking about the march.
Not Just a Re-enactment
“I always teach about the March on Washington in my classes because there are still so many untold stories,” Chatelain says. “I like to teach about the young [female] activists who felt silenced by the march's leadership [and] the labor activists who helped shape the march's platform on economic justice.”
Kemp, Chatelain and Jackson agree that the 2013 marches (there was one this past Saturday) are far from re-enactments.
“The reasons to march that inspired the activists and students of 1963 are still with us today – racial injustice, economic inequality and disenfranchisement,” Chatelain says. “We see well-organized and thoughtful coalitions of students and citizens who are marching every day for a better nation.”