The March on Washington as remembered by
Avon Rollins Sr.
Four decades (40 years) is a long time to look back and remember, but my years in the movement are years I will never forget. In 1963, I was involved in organizing demonstrations in Knoxville, Tennessee; Danville, Virginia; Chapel Hill, North Carolina and other places in the south as a member of the Executive Committee of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC was one of the vanguard organization of the civil rights movement and propelled other civil rights organizations into action. It was SNCC that orchestrated and initiated the demonstrations in Danville, Virginia; Birmingham, Mississippi; and Alabama and brought the other civil rights organizations into the movement including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was the symbolic leader of the civil rights movement. In 1963 I went to jail in Knoxville, Danville, and Chapel Hill as a result of my involvement in the civil rights movement and demonstrating in southern cities. I have been jailed approximately thirty (30) times.
After the March on Washington, I went back to Knoxville, Tennessee, shuttling back and forth to Danville and Chapel Hill, Birmingham and Selma, Alabama, points in Mississippi, Greenwood and Greenville. The civil rights movement was a real eye-awakening experience for this youngster from Knoxville, Tennessee. Prior to my experiences with the civil rights movement, probably the furthest south I traveled would have been to Chattanooga as a youngster with the Junior Elks Drill Team or north to Washington, D.C. as a safety patrol. So my experience in travel had been very limited.
It was an eye-opening experience to go into the deep south and to Mississippi and watch African-Americans have to descend from the sidewalks as whites approached, and where blacks knew that it may mean death if they looked at white people in the eye. They dropped their heads or looked the other way as whites approached. It was an eerie experience. I shall never forget the dogs, fire hoses, armored tanks with machine guns, baseball bats, the beatings, the shots fired at us, the deaths all to give African Americans the opportunity to freely exercise their rights under the Constitution of the United States.
I have spent my life never far from those days 40 years ago. I moved from marching and demonstrating to the avenue of social change by economic development and parity for African Americans. As I have said in speeches across the country a thousand times, "America, are you really America to me? America, are you really the land of the free and the home of the brave?"
Forty years ago, the answer to that question was no. Forty years later, as we begin a new millennium in two thousand and three, I still asks, "America, are you really America to me? America, are you really the land of the free and the home of the brave?" The answer to that question is: forty years later the unemployment rate of African-Americans is still twice that of whites. The per capita income of African-Americans is approximately 60% of their white counterparts. The mortality rate for births of African-Americans is still drastically high. African-Americans comprise approximately 13% of the population in Tennessee, but comprise more than 50% of the prison population! So the answer to that question, America is still not the land of the free and the home of the brave for the African-Americans who have contributed so greatly to this great nation.
America and the world owes a great debt to those young idealistic revolutionaries of 40 years ago who marched and protested to make American a better America. The names that follow are not inclusive of all but only a partial list of the heroes and heroines:
Annie Pearl Avery, Faye Bellamy, Sam Block, Julian and James Bond, Ben Brown, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, James Chaney, Charlie Cobb, Courtland Cox, Connie Curry, Doris Derby, Daniel A. Foss, Ralph Featherstone, Betty Mae Fikes, Mildred Page Forman, Joanne Grant, Lawrence Guyot, Prathia Hall, Fannie Lou Hammer, Bill Hansen, Curtis Hayes, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Bernice Johnson, June Johnson, Rev. Matthew A. Jones, Sr., Matthew A. Jones, Jr. Dorrie and Joyce Ladner, Bernard LaFayette, Worth Long, Bob Mants, Bob Moses, Charles McDew, Diane Nash, Lester MacKinney, Martha Prescod, William Porter, Willie Peacock, Cordell Reagon, Gloria Richardson, Willie Ricks, Cleveland Sellers, Charles Sherrod, Sam Shiraz, Frank Smith, Ruby Doris Smith, Hollis Watkins, Stanley Wise, Bobbie Yankee, Bob Zellner.