In 1963, I still lived at home in Harlem, and the march would take place a few weeks before I headed back to college. My friend Ellen and I decided at the last minute to go down to DC. We tried to join a bus group, but buses were all full, so we took the train from Penn Station.
I called my aunt the night before to ask if we could sleep on her floor. She had a little house, a husband and four kids, including one with Down Syndrome. I think she was embarrassed not to be able to offer us a bed, but we were thrilled to have a safe, cheap place to stay. She gave us pillows and blankets.
The 1963 March was my second march in Washington. I’d participated in the 1958 Youth March. In ’58, the South was roiling with violence and the Youth March was held around the time of Little Rock Nine; its purpose was to support school integration. My private school, New Lincoln, was largely white and ahead of its time for welcoming minority students, like me. When Minniejean Brown one of the Little Rock Nine got expelled from Central High in Arkansas, she came to New Lincoln. It was a famous powerhouse of progressive education where the dream of black and whites attending classes together played out every day.
The Youth March was a significant, but smaller gathering that has largely been lost in memory to the bigger event that would occur in 1963.
Saturday, August 28, 1963 was a beautiful summer day. I remember one moment of panic while marching to the Mall. Thousands of marchers started walking from a broad boulevard that suddenly funneled us into a series of narrow streets. I was packed like the proverbially sardine; carried along with a mass of humanity until we broke into the open area of the Mall.
It was a symbolic moment. I shed my panic; I’d arrived. I knew it was history making moment and I felt the magic.