It Was the Apogee of People's Aspirations [March on Washington]
I'm a southern by birth, born to an African American family in Southeastern West Virginia. I entered segregated schools in West Virginia at the age of five, and finished elementary school in North Carolina. My family moved to New York City (Harlem) where I finished my secondary education.
Growing up, there were two events that impressed themselves on my young consciousness: the Emmitt Till murder in Mississippi and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Both events occurring in 1955, really served to highten my awareness of the social oppression we as a people were suffering. It also demonstrated to me that we could organize ourselves effectively to fight back and win. It really began to quitely invest us poor, reserved, mainly rural working class people with a kind of slowly rising pride in our people, especially those living in the so-called "Deep South."
After high school I enrolled in CUNY (City College) in 1961. By this time the Southern Freedom Movement, as we youth of the day called it, was starting to gather steam. Some of my school-mates dropped out of school and headed South. I was getting restless, too, so I joined a local CORE chapter in New York. With six other classmates from high school we reorganized and energized the group, organized our community to form a mass march the weekend before August 28, 1963, and then sent five (5) buses to the historic March on Washington.
Later I was asked to come to Mississippi to organize cooperatives for the people booted off the plantations for voter registration. I helped managed the Liberty House Cooperatives, establish a Jackson area Malcolm X History Society, and organized a Jackson/Hinds county self-defense rifleman's club. By 1968 I was working with Coop groups in Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia, too.
In late 1969 I married a Mississippi Delta girl, settled in Jackson and had two chidren. I enrolled in Hinds Community College in 1972 and Mississippi State University to study economics. A year later I earned a transfer scholarship to continue my studies at Yale University, which I completed in 1977.
The experience in the African American Liberation struggle from the age of 19 to 29 shaped my perception of the world and what is possible for an ordinary person to achieve as long as one believes in collective endeavor, a shared vision, and a steely determination.
The most remarkable aspect about living in the "deep South" to me was the lack of fear of death and the belief that we could do whatever we set our mind to achieve. We met the world through our work, and achieved far more allies than we realized at the time. It was a period of inspiration, learning, creativity, and challenge all at the same time. It made my life so much more meaningful than anytime since, I must confess. However, I believe that now is the time to recollect, record, and pass on to future generations such experiences from the richness of the past.