[Monte Wasch, then 21, began his civil rights work in the late 1958 and '59, helping organize student and youth marches. In 1960-61, he worked on behalf of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) New York arm in Atlanta and Jackson, Miss., before assisting the transportation efforts for the March on Washington. His team worked with airline, bus and rail companies to transport marchers, and he coordinated with D.C. police on parking.]
I was working most of the morning, and I was on the platform about noon when the speechifying started. By 4 o'clock in the afternoon, which is when King came on, I was bushed. I'd been up for probably 24 hours straight. My work was done, so I wandered off to get a feeling of what the crowd was like. And I walked down to the reflecting pool, so I was maybe a half mile away from the Lincoln Memorial when Dr. King began his speech. His speech at the beginning  was pretty conventional. It was a speech. And then, about 10 minutes into it, the preacher in him took over. And he began preaching, "I have a dream."
You have to understand it was 98 degrees that day, and people were fanning themselves and putting their bare feet into the reflecting pool to cool off. By 4 o'clock in the afternoon, most of them were sun-drunk.
People were kind of dozing at the beginning of his speech, and when he began to orate, it was a like a lightning bolt. It was like a burst of electricity had moved through the crowd. People perked up. They began to take notice. They began to listen intently. They began to sway with the rhythm of the speech. They began to murmur, "Yes, yes." It was one of the most electrifying moments I've ever had in my life. That's the only way I can describe it.
King was a much more rounded person than the King of "I have a dream." I also remember he was brave enough to come out in opposition to the war in Vietnam at a time when other black leaders were saying that that was diversionary. And I also remember that his focus was as much on the moral imperatives as it was on the economic imperatives — full employment and job training and ending second-class status of black people in the workforce.
Historically, I think it ranks among the three or four speeches of the 20th century. Churchill's famous "We'll fight them on the beaches," Roosevelt's "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," and King.
See The March on
Washington for background & more information.
Copyright © Monte Wasch, 2013.