Note: this is the unedited version my dad sent out to the family 2 weeks ago. After living through this, I loved the original version the best, but here is the September 2, 2013 published version Marin Voice: Marches on Washington — 1963 and 2013 as well.
There’s nothing quite like a half century to provide perspective on one’s own little chunk of history.
We lived in Denton, Texas in 1963, a university town with two major campuses, 24,000 students, and a large house that was known on campus as the “Student Center”.
Denton disproved the theory that university towns are always liberal bastions of tolerance and acceptance. When I arrived on campus, I was amazed to find that although the universities had begun to accept black students, they were not yet allowed in university housing.
Each person had to search for off-campus accommodations in the black ghetto of the town (no paved streets or central sewage, little if any city services, few public accommodations).
Gradually, as the movement for civil rights was beginning to get traction nationally, the movement for social equality and civil rights began to excite our students—black and white.
Rumors circulated early that summer about how a big national gathering was to be held in Washington, D.C. in August. Maybe some of us could attend.
Reality then kicked in to remind everyone that we had plenty of “desegregating” to do right here at home. The black students who had formed the “Denton Integration Movement” began to use our Student Center as their central office and meeting space.
We were shocked by the assassination of NAACP field director Medgar Evers on June 12. He was well known and the murder galvanized our movement. Demonstrations began. Progress was slow.
It was then that I invited Aaron Henry, a NAACP colleague of Evers to speak on campus. Evers had driven Henry to the airport in Jackson shortly before he was murdered in his home driveway.
The search began for a place to host the meeting featuring an African American speaker. The churches and the university rejected our inquiries. The editor of the principal paper refused us ad space in his paper saying, “we just can’t afford to offend southern sensibilities”.
We pressured an embarrassed dean to finally open a lecture hall and Aaron spent his two days in Denton speaking and meeting with students.
As the planning for the March on Washington began, A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and a longtime leader in the struggle for economic justice, assumed the lead in the organizing.
Randolph understood that injustice and racism had many dimensions. The 1963 march is remembered as a demonstration for civil rights. But it was billed first of all as a demand for “Jobs and Freedom”. It was virtually a Labor Day march.
On Labor Day this year, social freedoms are wider, but the unemployment rate, and the high school drop out ratios for black males are still double that among whites. The dream is yet to be fulfilled.
Many of the presentations were predictable at the 1963 march, but Martin King’s speech will remain as a political, social and moral guidepost in our future human rights struggles.
The economic barrier that concerned Randolph is still sitting smack in the middle of the road blocking the creation of good jobs for all people. Labor Day in 2013 is more than ever a reminder of the continuing economic and educational injustices faced by millions of working people.
My bosses were upset that we allowed “colored” people to use our student center that summer of ‘63. So, I resigned and a year later we packed up and headed for the Bay area.
Looking back, most of the leaders of that 1963 march—Marian Anderson, Philip Randolph, Mrs. Medgar Evers, John Lewis, James Farmer, Roy Wilkins, Mahalia Jackson—would have been generally pleased with much of the progress of the last half-century.
But they would have agreed with Martin King when he said, “1963 is not an end, but a beginning”. He left it to all of us to move ourselves, our neighbors, and our nation forward.
Alan Miller, August 26, 2013
About Alan Miller
Alan S. Miller served on the faculties in Environmental Science, Policy and Management, and Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Now retired, he began teaching on the Berkeley campus in 1973. He is the author of numerous articles and books including A Planet to Choose: Value Studies in Political Ecology (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1978), I Hope You’re All Republicans: Controversial Quotations from Ronald W. Reagan (Berkeley CA: Catalyst Press 1981), Global Stakes: The Linkages of Peace (Wellington, New Zealand: Pacific Institute of Resource Management Press, 1988), and Gaia Connections: An Introduction to Ecology, Ecoethics and Economics (Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1991 and 2003 (revised 2nd Edition).
Alan Miller taught courses in Global Environmental Issues, Environmental Philosophy, Bioethics, Nuclear Safety, and World Order and the Environment. He has been a parish minister, a university chaplain, the director of an ecumenical higher education agency, a community organizer, and an editor with Pacific News Service in San Francisco. He continues to write regular opinion/editorials for San Francisco Bay Area newspapers. A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, he and Barbara Jones Miller have five children and have resided in Marin County, California since 1965.