Originally published in The Nation's Longest Struggle: Looking Back on the Modern Civil Rights Movement by the D.C. Everest school system of Wisconsin. This interview was conducted and edited by Junior and Senior High School students of the Everest system. For more information, see D.C. Everest Oral History Project.[
Marsha Rose Joyner was one of the first black girls to integrate Baltimore's all white female Western High School in September of 1954. Her family also owned the Afro-American newspapers.]
Since your great-grand father was a slave how did that impact how you got into civil rights?
Well, he lived during the time when Jim Crow was the law of the land and segregation was everywhere. That was just the way it was. The civil rights movement did not start in the '50s it started when the first slave said "I'm not gonna do this." It always was a civil rights movement, it just wasn't called such. People protesting had all kinds of things against slavery and against discrimination for hundreds of years. So this wasn't something new.
Can you tell about your origins of involvement in the civil rights' movement?
Well, my mother's family owned the Afro-American newspapers.
[In the mid-20th Century, the Afro-American was one of the largest and best known chains of Black-owned newspapers in the country with Afro-American papers published in a number of cities. Today, the Baltimore Afro-American and Washington Afro-American are still two of the leading Black publications in America.]
It was always something that was a part of my life because the newspaper fought against discrimination for more than a hundred years. I think it's a hundred and twenty-five years now. So that was always a part of my life. This wasn't something new. For me, I think for most African Americans and other minorities, that was always a way of life, the struggle against this whole way of life in America. It wasn't just the South it was all of the United States.
The school you went to when you were helping.
In May, 1961 the Brown v Board of Education decision was handed down. I'm sure you've seen all the film and pictures of all of the white women upset about their children going to school with black children. On that day in May, I was watching television. Now I had been in Catholic Schools most of my life, in the convent, so there wasn't the same kind of racism. There was racism in the Catholic schools, make no mistake about that, but not like the public schools.
The convent where I was a student, in boarding school was for Negroes and Indians. That was the Catholic's way of taking care of us. Anyway, that day in May, when the Board of Education decision was handed down, Mrs. Coffsland who was the principal of Western High School said, "I will never see a colored girl graduate from my school." Her school, Western High School, was one of the high class schools in Baltimore. Those schools were not only segregated by race, but they were also segregated by gender. The top schools in Baltimore were all that way, male and female. So Western High School was the best, in terms of all-girl schools.
That was in May, she said she would never see a colored girl graduate from her school. By the end of August, I was told we would go to her school, Western High School. There were five of us and we were handpicked. I don't know who made the decision of who would attend her school, but we were admitted. Five black girls were admitted to Western High School. We started in September of '54 in the tenth grade, which was junior year, no sophomore year. And so there we were in her school.
They were very nice, at least no one was ugly. No one was overt. It was covert racism. No one spoke to us. We were all in different classes, so we weren't together. I was alone for eight months. Nobody shared their notes, there were no social activities, none of the things that go along with high school. None of the things that you know, no sports, no friends that you go shopping with or anything like that. Nothing.
There was one other young lady and we at least talked to each other. Her name was Renda and she was from Germany. Now this, of course, was right after World War II and most of the girls at Western were Jewish. Renda came from Nazi Germany, needless to say they had nothing to do with her. So Renda and I, every once in a while would chit chat. She told me more about the history of World War II than I ever learned in any books because she lived through it. There was that little bit of a friendship; not much, but a little. So that whole time in school was spent very quietly.
I guess in retrospect that was good because I learned a lot. I didn't have anything else to do. When I had told my mother no one would speak to me, her first comment was "You're not supposed to be talking in school, you're supposed to be learning." So there was no such thing as telling my mother that no one would speak to me. As you may suspect, I love to talk. Anyway, we got through.
The week before graduation everything was ready. We had done everything we were supposed to do and Mrs. Coffsland, the principal, who had been courteous to us. She had never been unkind or anything like that. But anyway the week before graduation Mrs. Coffsland turned her face to the wall and died. She never saw a colored girl graduate from her school. Now, I took it very personal, and as you can see it's been 60 years and I am still pissed about it. So that's the big story, the way she just died, and that she never saw a colored girl graduate from her school.
From what we've heard we knew it was bad but I didn't realize it was that bad.
Well, racism and discrimination was bad. It was really bad. It didn't matter how much education you had, or how much money you had. I was born in Indiana but we lived in Baltimore because my mother's family owned the newspaper in Baltimore. I didn't know as a little girl that the city was segregated because it was so divided. The Italians lived in Little Italy, the Irish lived with the Irish, the Jews lived with the Jews, the blacks lived with the blacks. It was so segregated that each neighborhood had its own character. The food you could tell because the food smelled different and all of the culture.
I didn't know as a child that there was something inherently wrong with that because that's the way it was. It was only as I got to be a teenager that I realized the depth of this and how really mean-spirited it was.
In 1946 — I know that you are glossing over when I said "1946" — but there really was such a time as 1946! We moved from Baltimore to Hawaii and then to Guam then to Saipan. Each island got smaller and smaller because my father was in the Army. He was in the Ordinance and their job was to clean up the islands after World War II, which of course was a really dirty job, removing ammunition, dead bodies and all that.
Living in Saipan, where everybody looked like me was like living in an environment with tomorrow's children. Even though the language was different somehow we managed. I again did not feel segregation. I think I knew it but I'm not sure I felt it. Until coming back to America in 1950 and being an age where I was aware of the discrimination.
[Saipan is a small island in the Pacific Ocean. The original inhabitants are dark-skinned Micronesians who speak the Chammoro language.]
I was in the convent at the boarding school for Negroes and Indians, where they did not teach us a thing about being a Negro or an Indian. They taught us how to be good white wives. Anyway, that was when I was really aware of the discrimination and the segregation, as I became a teenager. Brown vs Board of Education, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, now all of this was in the white papers and on the television. Before, making something happen to fight this had been on the minority side, the Black side, and Latinos, and the Native Americans. Their issues had not been all over the television, and television was very new in those days. In fact, the March on Washington had been the first big television event. Now we take it for granted that no matter what happens, you're going to see it on television. But in those days you didn't. The fact that you don't see all of the things that were going on in the black community about eliminating segregation, it was not unusual because television wasn't really used back then that way.
Even as deadly as World War II was, all the wars up to WW2 had different units, the black unit, the Japanese, the local guys here [in Hawaii] were in a Japanese unit. I'm sure you've heard a lot about the 442nd and the 101st because they get honored all the time. It wasn't until 1948 when President Truman integrated the military. In 1950, the Korean War was the first integrated war. Why the war people don't want you in the military when you are going to die, that makes no sense to me, but anyway that's a different story. I thought it had always been that way, segregation.
Then coming back to Baltimore when I was a teenager I was able to understand and see what was going on, that made a difference. That made all the difference in the world where you think "this isn't right" especially when having lived in the Pacific with all these different ethnic groups living together and then coming back to a segregated America seemed really strange. After school my mother told me I had to go to Howard University because I had to learn to be black. I had learned the language, the customs, the culture having spent all those years with all those other ethnic, groups in Hawaii and Saipan and then in the convent. It was in 1956 and '57 '58 those years were the real beginnings of my actual physical involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, out there on the picket line, going to jail, standing up to the segregation and all of that.
Looking back of course all the friends that I had, and still have, we were all in that together. There was this community of young people who felt that they could do this. I'm sure now that if we knew what we were going to go through I'm not so sure we would have done it, but we did. And you know that as young people you feel invincible, you feel like you can do anything.
Most of the time we do.
Yes. On my first picket line, I didn't even know what a picket line was.
Let me give you some more background about the era. It might make more sense then. Well, it doesn't make sense to me even at this age; but girls were so different than they are now. Like I told you, my family owned the Afro-American newspapers and in those days it was the largest chain of Black newspapers in the world. I am the oldest of my generation, and I always thought I was the smartest. My two cousins, the two that came right after me were both male. Needless to say, I was able to manipulate those two idiots but that's a different story. I always knew, though, because they were boys that I would never be publisher of the newspaper and it was true. One of them, always a male, was the publisher of the paper. Girls in those days no matter how smart, were expected to perform cotton, hay and rags. That's the way girls were treated. And it was always "What are you wearing?, do you have a date?, are you going to this party?" It was always the same stuff, never any real issues and no one expected you to have any insides. No one expected you to develop into a real person.
So it was more the social aspects?
Yeah, this was for girls across the board — white, pink, or green. They didn't expect girls to develop into anything. I understood that and it bothered me because I knew I had more on the inside then I did on the outside. See I wasn't an ugly duckling; but I wasn't one of the pretty girls. But, I did know I had something inside. And I finally became part of the civil rights movement and actually went to do a sit-in and walk the picket line.
I hate cold weather, I know you live in cold weather but I hate it. And I remember this day it was a Wednesday and it was raining. In those days we were taught how to do a picket line. We were taught how to dress so we would always look our very best, so there was no excuse for you not being able to go into a place. I was dressed with these little high heels, Pennyweight shoes. Oh, my god, and it was raining and cold. I walked up to the picket line and I thought "Oh, my god. I can't believe I'm out here."
Then I was arrested and I went to jail. And the jails of course were segregated. I was put in a cell with a prostitute. She was gorgeous. She had this big fur coat. I have to tell you, I'm only five feet tall and must have weighed all of a hundred pounds. And she says, "Sweetheart, what you are in here for?" And I told her. She said, "What? Oh my God. What is a picket line?" We began to talk; I got to spend the night with her, under her fur coat because it was so dreadfully cold. She was so sweet and absolutely gorgeous.
The next day in court, I had survived these big headlines, "Afro-American Publisher's Niece Arrested." Needless to say, my mother — I couldn't believe that woman. So anyway, it was at that moment, in that day, that I survived. I realized that I could amount to something, that I could be a real person, and I've been a terror ever since that time. So I guess that's the story. I loved every minute of it. I know there are times I thought "This is crazy and somebody is surely going to kill me." But it was learning I was somebody and that I could stand up to anything they sent my way. This issue was bigger than me and it was worth dying for. And here I am at 73 and they haven't gotten me yet.
So, you said you were involved in sit-ins, what were the goals of those sit-ins?
In Baltimore it was to integrate the restaurants; that was the first one. In Indianapolis it was to integrate the theater and just generally to change the system. At that time, on interstate commerce you had to ride in the back of the bus. This is a side note, now I ride the bus to and from work and everybody rushes to get to the back of the bus because that's the most comfortable and the warmest. The bus is dreadfully cold. I laugh because I never thought I'd be rushing to get to the back of the bus.
The Interstate Commerce law was a big thing for the Freedom Riders. Yeah. I had several friends that were Freedom Riders and I wanted to go. I wanted so much to go on the Freedom Rides but you had to have your parent's signature. My mother — my friend called her the "warden." My mother was the editor of the newspaper and she thought she had everybody in Baltimore believing that she could raise the sun and lower the moon. I mean she was totally, totally in charge. So I asked her if I could go, because you had to have their permission, they had to sign a permission slip. And she said, "Absolutely not." And now in retrospect I think "Gee, that was a good idea to not let me go." However, I did have a friend that went and she had to go through all of the horrors. But she's still with us, she managed to survive. We talk to each other regularly, since I guess we were fifteen. We've been through all these horrors together.
You asked about my grandfather, well one of my grandfathers, Dr. Oliver.
Jacob B. Oliver was a slave. He was born a slave and the family that he was born into sent him off to Boston with his mother. They walked, if you can imagine that. He got a very good education and he became a doctor. He went to Brazil, Indiana. I know you know where Indiana is, but Brazil? Anyway, he went to Brazil and became the only doctor in that little town. So my mother and her little brother were born there and I was born in Brazil, Indiana. My father was from Terre Haute, Indiana.
So anyway, when they wanted to segregate the theater in Brazil, my grandfather bought it. Every time they tried to segregate something my grandfather would buy it. By the time he passed, he owned most of Brazil, Indiana. So that was that whole story. Well there is more to him than that. You'll love this little story. During the Depression, in the '30s when people didn't have cash they would go to my grandfather. It didn't matter white, black, whatever. He wouldn't charge them, they would pay him with chickens and carrots and potatoes because this was the country. Whatever they had, it was fine with him.
My grandmother, on the other hand, was not so happy with that. So one day this man, a white man, says "Well Dr. Oliver, what can I get you, I have no money but what can I get for you?" And he said, "I want a membership in the Klan." My grandfather was born a slave, now I mean black, his skin was really black. He was a very heavy, dark man. He said this and the guy goes off and gets him the membership in the Klan. Now is that the craziest thing you've ever heard?
The Klan had a parade down Main Street and if you've ever been to these little towns you know that everything is on Main Street. My grandfather's office is on Main Street. And my Grandmother, my mother and her brother were all standing out there watching the Klan parade. Underneath this sheet, somebody recognizes and shouts "There's Doctor Oliver under there!" They recognized his feet and my grandmother just fainted dead away. It was just too much. He was a real character.
That was his way of finding out who was in the Klan. The mayor, the sheriff, everybody, all of them were in the Klan. The Klan is really bad, there's no question about that. However there were many white people who were afraid of the Klan. The Klan had them; the Klu Klux Klan had terrorized white people to the point that they were afraid to say anything to stand up to the Klan. It wasn't everybody; people were just scared to death to do anything. They knew it was wrong but they were scared. And the White Citizen's Council, they had really managed to terrorize the community. So when you read about all of this and you think "Didn't any white people stand up to this?" Well, I'm the Klan. The Klan was ruthless. They burned people's houses, they lynched people, they killed white people for participating in the Civil Rights movement. They managed to terrorize the community.
Did you ever have any run-ins with the Klan?
Did I? No. Where I lived they didn't, but other people did.
When you first went to the all white school were you scared for your life?
No. Like I said it was very calm, too calm in fact. Nobody said a word. Nothing. There were other schools that had issues, but I didn't. At other schools people were scared to death. Somehow I think that this subtle racism is far worse because it just leaves you out there by yourself with nothing, no sense of what's coming next. At least when there's violence you understand it, you see it, you feel it, and you are on your guard. You know what you have to do. But this code of silence, for a person that likes to talk and who is totally out there in the world like me, it was really difficult.
What was the philosophy of the specific movement, like the sit-ins or when you were in the school?
While I was in school I did not participate in the sit-ins. In fact sit- ins, and the whole idea of nonviolence came after I graduated. And Nonviolence is not passivism. It is not about being a pacifist. Once you get back to class you look up the difference between passivism and nonviolence. Nonviolence is confrontational. You are nonviolent, but you step up.
If I am nonviolent and you have something I want, I'm not going to take it from you. Say I asked you for it and you said "No, you can't have it." And I stand in your face and absolutely look you in the eye, don't say a word to you, just stand there and look you in the eye. What do you think you are going to do? You will do something. Doesn't matter what you do, but you will do something because that is confrontational, to have somebody stand there and look you in the eye and not say word. What would you do to just have someone stand there in your space? Well first you are going to back up. Now you are feeling "Oh god. I've got to do something but I don't know what." Usually people start flailing their arms and swinging and screaming because they are confused and they don't know what this is.
The more they stand there and the more you feel threatened, the more you will be violent. That's just the way it is. Pretty soon you are going to feel defensive, and have to do something and that other person just stands there, never bats an eye, never says a word they just stand there. That is the core of nonviolence. It forces the other person into violence. Now, pacifists will not go that far. Pacifists will do everything to stay out of the confrontation. They'll say "I'm not going there; I'm not going to do this. No."
So when you look at a nonviolent picket line they might sing because black folks will sing. But even that torments the other side. They sing, they walk in a straight line, they are well dressed, they are well behaved. And now you are thinking, "Oh shit. I gotta do something." I want these people to go away, just go away, whatever it takes, just go away. And so in the White Castle [fast-food chain] you know they have the little hamburgers. Have you ever seen a White Castle? They have little square hamburgers.
You'll love this story because it's one of the times I lost it. This guy, a big football type, a young man, a black guy, goes into the White Castle and he says, "I want a hamburger." She says "We don't serve Negroes." And he said "And I don't eat Negroes either." I'm a silly little girl and I just said "Oh God." I had to disappear because I was about to die, just falling over laughing. That's the kind of levity we had to have once in a while. We went to one place and we sat-in. We did a sit-in and this young waitress started cleaning with ammonia. She had everybody in tears with the smell of ammonia, including herself. Now she's totally frustrated, not knowing what to do. That's what nonviolence does, it forces the other side into violence. You've seen the pictures of Bull Connor and dogs and the fire hoses on the children in Alabama.
That's a nonviolent thing but it forced him into violence. That is at the core of nonviolence. Or as Gandhi called it passive violence. You can look this one up, passive violence is when you say certain things about someone else and that forces them into violence. Look up Gandhi and the definition of nonviolence.
How did the blacks and whites get along in the movement you participated in?
Fine, no problems. All the white girls had black boyfriends and the black girls didn't have any boyfriends. So, that's how it happened in the early stages of this integration thing. We had good relationships with everybody, but in terms of dates and love affairs it was all white women and black men. We laugh about that to this day, how we went through all those years without a date.
Who were the leaders you associate with the Civil Rights Movement?
In each city, in each organization there was a leader. Martin Luther King of course gets the media hype. He was a leader, make no mistake about that. But every city had its own leader. After all, this was a huge movement. It was not a top down movement, so there were hundreds and hundreds. But the one that comes to mind is Jaunita Jackson Mitchell. And again you can look her up. She really was the backbone. She was the one who started Civic Interest Group in Baltimore which morphed in to the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). And I think she would be the person that I think of.
For me she was the leader. She was not a student. She was an attorney, a great woman. Her mother was part of the NAACP in the '30s, with my uncle who was publisher of the newspaper. They had worked together for so long on this whole issue. Juanita Jackson Mitchell was the organizer. She was like a mother to all of us, as was my mother. They were just always there to make sure no one did anything to us. And she was the leader. Her husband, Clarence Jackson Jr., was honored as the 101st senator. He was not elected but he was part of the Senate. He was such a powerful influence in the senate and really worked hard. Have you seen Eyes on the Prize?
Okay, you must see that one. It's a nine part series and it's in DVD form now. Ask your teachers and tell them you must see Eyes on the Prize. That is so good. It shows all the interworking in all of the different cities. You can see that there was so much more to the Civil Rights Movement than just picketing and demonstrating and going to jail.
I tell everybody that everything I learned, I learned in the basement of the church. The churches would give us their offices in the basements so that we could organize and we could do all of those things. The basement of the church became a staple of the civil rights movement in every city. It was a way of using the telephone and the typewriter and the mimeograph machine. I learned how to write press releases, I learned how to manipulate the media, I learned how to use office equipment and how to organize. So everything I learned, I learned in the basement of the church because that was our job, that was my job. Every now and then I did walk a picket line. Anyway, I did all the stuff that kept all of this together.
Underneath of course the big thing was voter registration. That is your voice, that is everybody's voice. It was not only voting, getting everybody registered to vote, but to participate in the process, to be a part of the process. Now, how old are you?
15 and 16.
Now, you can volunteer in somebody's campaign, in anybody's campaign. Are you in Wisconsin?
Yes, we are in Wisconsin.
Now, is that where they are recalling the governor?
[In 2010, Scott Walker, a right-wing Republican was elected Governor of Wisconsin. He then pushed through legislation revoking union collective-bargaining rights for public employees. Labor unions and their allies collected 900,000 signatures to force a recall election to remove him from office. Walker defeated the recall effort 53% to 46%.]
So that's a great campaign to volunteer in because that way you get to see the interworking of the process, the political process. You know they talk about blacks being in the Democratic party. Well they didn't open the doors and say "Ya'll come." We literally broke down the doors of the Democratic party to be part of the system. To be a part of just voting in November isn't good enough. You have to be inside to see where the decisions are made. You have to participate at that level, the precinct level. Then your voice counts, and you become a part of it.
That was the biggest thing for me in the civil rights movement — learning the process and how to be a part of it, learning how to do voter registration. Our little group was picked up as part of the Kennedy people in 1959 and 1960 for his campaign. That was one of the best run campaigns ever. It was a real opportunity to learn how to be a part of the system. It was only when we became a part of the system that we learned how to do that. We got the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By 1964 and 1966 there were huge numbers of Blacks elected into office because we had learned how. It's that kind of thing that makes a difference in your everyday life. So that to me is the most important part of the civil rights movement.
How did the President at the time regard the Civil Rights actions?
Well, at that time Eisenhower was rather aloof, rather distant, I guess is the best way to put that. I remember, I was at Howard University in Washington D.C. on inauguration day for Eisenhower and Nixon was his Vice-President. In those days before shootings, the Presidents were in an open car before the inauguration. We were standing out on the parade route and I remember so clearly I looked Nixon dead in the eye, that's how close we were. He gave me the nastiest look. I said, "I'm gonna get you." So needless to say when we got to Watergate I was thrilled to go after him, just thrilled. But that's a different story.
Okay, the [presidential] leadership at that time was non-existent, except when forced. Eisenhower did send in the troops to Little Rock, and wherever it was needed. He did do that; I have to give him credit for that. But Eisenhower was really aloof, not just about civil rights, but about everything. He was just that kind of a person. Kennedy came in with a promise that everything was going to be great and it was a new day. Everybody was excited; we had worked on his campaign. I was engaged at that time so we went to the inauguration and the ball. Everybody was so happy about this new administration. But at the heart of it, he needed the South and so this whole thing of pushing civil rights bills was not all right with him. He helped with it as much as he could in terms of giving support. It was Johnson, LBJ, that really stood up to the plate. He really did. He was the one that got the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act passed. He should have been one of the great Presidents, but he got all involved in Vietnam. Well, you know what happened. I really liked him and I am sorry it had to end that way.
Did you experience the split of the Civil Rights Movement around 1966?
No. I was a wife and a mother in 1966.
Well there was supposed to have been a split. I don't know how to explain it. But around that time they were drastically violent or there was a big step forward. The '60s needless to say were a lot more than nonviolent. The '60s were just really crazy. No, I was not active. Well, wait a minute. Yes, the end of '66 and all of '67 my husband was in Vietnam and I was in Baltimore with my children. I had three at the time. I was working as the deputy clerk in the Baltimore City Court and they had never had a woman, or a Black. Hiring me meant they got everything in one. The Baltimore city clerk, the actual city clerk, put my desk right in front of the door so everybody could see me. He would run up and down the halls telling people, "Look what I've got, look what I've got." You know who Nancy Pelosi is, right?
Nancy Pelosi is originally from Baltimore. She's the only girl I think. She is the youngest of a whole slew of boys. They were from Little Italy and her father was mayor for God knows how long. Then her brother was Mayor Thomas Bellas Andrew. One of her brothers was the clerk of the city court. They were just everywhere, but they were originally in Little Italy. They were a big powerhouse in Baltimore. I didn't know her. I knew the guys but by that time she had married and moved to California.
Did women play a role in the Civil Rights Movement?
Oh God, yes. You didn't see them. Like I said if you watch Eyes on the Prize, you didn't see them but they were everywhere, everywhere. The media took pictures of the demonstrations, which were usually men. But yes, women were very much a part of it. In fact the women's movement was started in the SNCC. office in New York. Have you read about Fannie Lou Hamer?
She was a leader in Mississippi; Ruleville, Mississippi, Sunflower County. She had lived on a plantation all of her life. They [SNCC organizers] convinced her to go register to vote. It was horrible the things she went through. If there has to be one woman that stands out above them all it has to be Fannie Lou Hamer. One of the things that I think came out of this whole movement is this whole thing with women and learning how to stand up and be somebody. It's a good thing. See you don't have a clue that women were not always somebody. This is a whole new era for women being strong and independent. That's one of the things that comes out of this.
We read that you are a past President of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. What did that all entail?
Well, this is year 24. There were three of us. A woman called me and said "We have got to have a Martin Luther King holiday." And I said, "Okay, I will tell you what you have to do." At the time I was, and still am, part of the Democratic Party. I said, "I will tell you what you have to do to get it to the [Hawaii] legislature but I'm not going to do it." She said, "Okay."
So I called another friend and said "Alice just called and said we should have a Martin Luther King holiday." And she said, "Yes, we should and I'll write the petition." So there we were. It took us a couple of years. I might add 20 different ethnic groups signed on as friends of the Martin Luther King holiday. It took us a couple of years to get the holiday, but we did. So the state created a Martin Luther King commission and it was again all different ethnic groups.
The state had a lot of money in those days, so it was a grand celebration. Then the state ran out of money. We created a non-profit organization which carried on the work of the commission. So of course, now we are out looking for money to do all these things. The Mayor of the city of Honolulu, Jeremy Harris said, "Marsha, I can't give you any money but I'll tell you what I can do, I can make the city the co-sponsor of the Martin Luther King holiday and that way you can use the facilities of the city." So that's what we are to this day, we are co-sponsors to the city of Honolulu. We are the only one that is co-sponsored by a city and it is a big deal. It is a big celebration, a big event. The origination as I have said was 24 years ago. And while I don't get paid for this, it is a big job. Even though I am no longer the president I still write the book for the Martin Luther King holiday which is what I've got to finish today, to get it to the printer. It will be online, I will send you a link. I think all of them from the last 10 years are online, which an awful lot of history is. Because I am a master of trivia I know all the stuff.
How do you feel the assassination of Martin Luther King impacted the movement?
Well, with the assassination people went crazy, it was just crazy. To have a violent end to a nonviolent man was just unthinkable. But that wasn't the first time someone had tried to take his life. This had been upon him many times. I think that his stance against the war was the reason. And I'll go to my grave thinking the government did this to him, because he turned and said about Vietnam that he was against the war. It was exactly one year to the day that he gave that speech and they killed him.
The movement changed, yes. As you know, I don't know how many cities were burned and everything turned violent. The nonviolence became yesterday. People were not thinking about that and everything changed. That was in April; then in June, Bobby Kennedy was killed. The politics changed. Nixon became President. Johnson got lost in the war; everything changed, everything changed. The movement is still alive. There are people still dedicated to making change in the United States. But it wasn't the same.
Is there anything else you would like us to know or add to your interview?
I am going to send you so much stuff you will be totally inundated. So that you can have whatever I left out, you can have. So your Oral History; last year you said you did the Holocaust?
I was telling you about Renda Ruckman, who was in school with me.
She told me all about this. She had come from Nazi Germany and everything I learned about that was from her firsthand. She talked about the people on the trains and being sent away. And understand because she was a child, we were the same age, and not understanding what this was all about, but knowing it was wrong. She said something about the Jews having to wear something on their lapels to show they were Jewish.
Oh, the star of David.
Yeah. Like I said, I learned so much from her. I think we always need to look at those things and keep it up front, the Holocaust and the lynchings. Did you know in 1912 in Cuba the white Cubans massacred the black Cubans. There were thousands and thousands dead. They weren't protesting they weren't doing anything. They had formed a Negro organization with 12,000 members. Some of them moved to Tampa, Florida to escape the massacre. And the black cities, the whites just burned down. We have to keep this history in front of us so we know it and understand it, and so we don't succumb to it again.
We can never go back to it again. And if you notice this racism against Mr. Obama is horrible. I never dreamed it would be that bad. but here it is.
Marsha now lives in Hawaii. She has been there for more than 30 years now. She is the Past-President of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition-Hawaii, this position was held by Marsha for 6 years. She was one of the original people who fought to make King Day a holiday in Hawaii.]
Interviewed and Transcribed by: Lindsey Bartnik & Paige Hantz
Copyright © D.C. Everest Area Schools, 2013