In 1963, the world changed when numerous, extraordinary events took place altering our history. I was a baby boomer at that time, but I’m old enough to see the significant changes that helped shaped our Nation.
On August 28, 1963 in our country’s capitol, Washington D.C., Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, (MLK) marching feet landed, as did millions of others in a diverse crowd with voices that wanted to be heard by marching for Freedom, Justice, Equality and Jobs. A year later, Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize while two Congressional Acts were passed, The Civil Rights Movement (1964) and The Voting Rights (1965).
Fast forward 50 years later and again, we have millions, including me, in a widely diverse crowd descending on the Capitol, commemorating and honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who lead the first march and delivered his infamous speech “I Have A Dream”.
Two years prior to that historical March, credit needs to go to the “Freedom Riders” who did not march on Washington but rode on buses from Washington through the “Jim Crow” south to make changes not only in Black American History but the World’s History. I had the special privilege to speak with “Freedom Rider”, Dr. Ernest “Rip” Patton who helped to shape America ’s History when he boarded the bus as a strong and courageous college student. My heart was touched knowing he sacrificed his college years to help pave the way for Dr. King and others to march on Washington D.C. and to indirectly give me this opportunity to be heard worldwide through Splash Magazine. Also, he demonstrated that if you strongly believe in something you should take time to make a difference and still get back on track to fulfill your own dream, which was earning his college degree. That’s why he is known today as a Dr. Patton and not Mr. Patton.
I was so excited and honored to be part of the 50th Anniversary March on Washington, which was celebrated on the weekend through the actual day, Wednesday, August 28, 2013. I couldn’t help but compare this to the March five decades ago.
I was fascinated when I observed several individuals who actually attended both the March in 1963 and 2013. One elderly man was carrying a sign that appeared to have been used in 1963. It read, “We march for effective Civil Right Laws Now!” John Nelson John Nelson Website from Washington D.C. who is the Award Winning Pencil artist/Photographer and the creator of the MLK 50th Commemoration T-shirts showed me many photos and told many stories. He recalled how people in 1963 were angry and hungry for a change and expressed this by marching for a better way of life.
He mentioned that men and women wore suits and ties and dresses to show unity and that they meant business on this hot summer day. Emotionally, he said he didn’t see the fire in people eyes this time even though we are still fighting for some of the same reasons. That shows this generation should never take the small things for granted because the people who paved the way endured a lot of sacrifices which included jail time, bloody beatings, and even death.
I was so thankful to experience this moment in history with a friend, Kimberly Dean. Our fathers graduated together and here we are 50 years later doing something together. However, that was short lived when we both got lost in the crowd. Later that night when we reconnected, we were happy to share the many stories including meeting new friends (Joy & Richard). Speaking of my father, W. Sudderth, his destiny was impacted by the 1963 March for better jobs. In December 1963 along with my late uncle L. Gaines, they became the first black policemen in our community. What an honor that was. I interviewed Mr. Sudderth (my dad), and learned how it was to be a Black police officer in the 60’s. WOW!!!
Now back to the stories on this special day. I had made it all the way to the barricades but couldn’t get close to where President Obama; Vice-President Biden, Former President Carter and Clinton, John Lewis (gave speech in 1963 & 2013)
and VIPs were sitting at the Lincoln Memorial. I wanted to be close but was happy when someone from an Atlanta television station (wsb-tv, channel 2) stopped me and said he wanted to interview someone from Atlanta. I raised my hand and next thing I knew I was on TV. Many friends said they saw me.
I had to give a shout out to my Pastor, Reverend Cameron M. Alexander because the Sunday before this March he told me he marched in 1963 and I told him I’m going to march too. He is in his 80’s now so he looked me in the eyes and said ‘You march for me too”. I replied “I surely will”. Upon my return, I brought him the souvenir hat commemorating the 50th anniversary. He was so excited. It was my way of saying THANK YOU for riding with Alfred Daniel “AD” King, the brother of Dr. King to march on Washington because I’m reaping the benefits from it.
At the March, there were several unforgettable speeches and singing voices such as LeAnn Rimes, Gospel Legend, Shirley Caesar’s, NBA Legend, Bill Russell and etc. One of the highlight speeches was that of Actor/Comedian/Oscar Award Winner, Jamie Foxx when he told about his 19 year-old daughter’s excitement when she met Entertainer/Civil Right Activist, Harry Belafonte who is 86 years old. That really touched my heart because I love seeing the younger generation connecting with the older generation because there is so much knowledge, wisdom and history you can learn from those who walked before you.
Within the last 4 months, I lost three close-dear hearted-pioneer friends, Mrs. E. Houston (89); Mrs. V. Turner (87) and Ms. Q. Crossing (76). It broke my heart that I couldn’t share special historical moments at the March with them. That’s why I especially enjoyed that golden moment when the only grandchild (Yolanda Renee) of MLK and Coretta Scott King was standing on stage with her parents (Martin III & Arndrea), Uncle Dexter, and Aunt Bernice ringing the bell where Dr. King once stood many years ago. This was the same bell that came from the Sixteenth Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama where four little black girls were killed in a bomb explosion on September 15, 1963 by members of the Klu Klux Klan in retaliation of the March two weeks prior.
Another bridge between the young and old generation was when I talked with teenager, China Horton. She said it was more than a breath taking experience when she had special privilege to be welcome inside the White House and met almost everyone that was on the panel that day. I was so intrigued when she showed me photos and the photo of her with Oscar Award Winner Forrest Whitaker, who was starring in the blockbuster movie, “Lee Daniels, The Butler" at the moment. I saw the movie twice in the first weekend showing. It was number 1 for three out of four weeks. Sadly, Eugene Allen, the real life butler didn’t get to see this movie because he passed in 2010 at age 90.
The movie release date was perfect, one weekend before millions traveled to D.C. to be part of the Commemorative March. The movie covered so much history coinciding with the butler working for eight Presidents of the United States, experiencing historical events including the Civil Right Movement which was changing America.
As history keeps evolving and interchanging with Presidents being a major factor in everything, the 50th year Anniversary of MLK in 1963 was interchanging with President John F. Kennedy being the first President to mark the ending of segregation. MLK strongly commended President Kennedy for using his Oval Office power to help remove segregation. He took a stand. Tragically, three months after MLK’s March, President Kennedy was allegedly gunned down by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas. What a mournful dark day in America and World History on November 22, 1963.
Kennedy’s death still remains a mystery even after 50 years when newer evidence is getting closer to what actually happen being it was more than one shot that killed our President. Because this was a time of much hatred towards equality for Blacks, some were not happy that Kennedy played a significant role in the MLK March. All of this was not in vain in 1963 because the Civil Rights Movement Act was passed in 1964 and the following year in 1965 the Voting Rights Act came into play.
In the year 1968, when MLK and Senator Robert Kennedy were murdered senselessly, Kennedy had made a prediction that only GOD could have revealed to him. He actually stated “Things are moving so fast in race relations a Negro could be president in 40 years”. Fast-forward 40 years to when he said that and Barack Obama, is elected the first African American President of the United States in 2008. That’s why so many people can relate MLK with his Infamous speech “I Have A Dream”. Many say MLK was the Dreamer and President Obama is The Dream.
That’s why this was such an emotional moment, witnessing history, watching President Obama standing at the same place and same time reflecting about where MLK stood half a century earlier. President Obama’s main words were that we should never forget how they marched through non-violence and how so many changes resulted from that March back in 1963 including bringing change to the White House.
He ended by saying “And that's the lesson of our past. That's the promise of tomorrow, that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it. And when millions of Americans of every race at every region, every faith and every station can join together in a spirit of brotherhood, then those mountains will be made low and those rough places will be made plain and those crooked places, they straighten out towards grace, and we will vindicate the faith of those who sacrificed so much and live up to the true meaning of our creed, as one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.
Copyright © 2013.OCTOBER This story written and photos by Renee Sudderth for Splash Magazines. It is not to be sold or reproduce without written permission of Renee Sudderth