[Louis D. Armmand, then 19, joined CORE in June 1963. He and five high school friends organized a 5,000- person rally in Staten Island, N.Y., the weekend before the march and sent five buses — with about 200 total riders — to D.C.]
The thing about that day was it was eerie, quiet. We must've hit D.C. about 9 o'clock. We were able to get reasonably close [to the podium]. It was the first time I'd been to the mall, and it was magnificent. We were within a 100 feet or so of the speakers. It was pretty awe-inspiring to see that assembly of people. After 9 o'clock people started coming in thick and fast. Once people started crowding in, you had to stay in your section because it was shoulder to shoulder.
Looking back on King's speech, it wasn't seen as momentous as it was now because, frankly, we keyed on the speech that John Lewis made [...] because he was a student, he was in the field, he was in the South, and we felt SNCC was on the cutting edge even more deeply than Dr. King.
I think everybody was moved at the particular time. It was a culmination. It was the apogee of people's aspirations.
But the biggest [question] was, "Could this be done?" Most people thought this was an impossible task. People were predicting violence. Johnson had 8,000 troops surrounding the whole site. We saw the armed sailors standing at the parade when we came into the mall. It was surprising to the establishment, to the elite press, who expected that there were going to be riots. There was not one disruption caused by the participants themselves. They came peacefully, they participated peacefully and they left peacefully.
Dr. King and his vision have been sort of frozen in time, and I think that's a disservice to his development because, clearly, three years later with that "Beyond Vietnam" speech, his consciousness of the nature of American society had progressed quite broadly and quite accurately.
But after leaving, I have to admit, after returning home, after that march, I felt a certain pause. We weren't given a message as to, "Where do we go from here? How do we proceed?"
See The March on
Washington for background & more information.
Copyright © Louis Armmand, 2013.