[Joanne Gavin, then 31, was a civil rights veteran with CORE in 1963. In August, she rode a chartered bus from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., with the intent to join SNCC in the South. After the march, however, she stayed to work in the organization's D.C. offices. ]
I had gone that morning down to the Justice Department because people from southwest Georgia, who were heroes of mine, were picketing the FBI, so I picketed with them and then walked to the march with them. So we were late. We were way back by the Washington Monument at the edge of the reflecting pool. You couldn't help but be awestruck by the crowd.
King has been totally sanitized and made into an angelic figure with a halo who had a dream, and that's not what King was about. What I took away wasn't the dream speech, but that a promissory note was going unpaid by the government and the country.
I would advise [everyone] read the whole thing. Most people don't know the whole speech. Most people only hear those [I have a dream] lines, which I understood from some associates were an afterthought that he hadn't actually written that into the speech. Read the whole thing and the rest of his writing and see what he was really about — which was organizing people and struggling against the economic inequality of the country and the oppression of people. There was a lot of optimism, and the feeling that we were going to go forward rapidly from here, but there was a lot of work to be done. And I remember one person I met in D.C. that said that her young child woke up the next morning and said, "Mommy, are we free now?" Certainly the adults didn't think they were free right that minute, but they were energized to work harder.
Later addition: I would add that Haskell Wexler had a film crew aboard our chartered bus, resulting in his documentary, "The Bus," which is unique among accounts of that event in that it is a totally grass-roots telling of the march's story, never showing the speakers on the monument steps at all. And I would add also that I later worked in Mississippi: during Freedom Summer and for seven years total.
See The March on
Washington for background & more information.
Copyright © Joanne Gavin, 2013.