Fifty years have passed since the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but Virginia LaBad of Schenectady remembers the historic political rally like it happened yesterday.
“It was electrifying. Your skin tingled. Just to be in the presence of that many people and such a diverse group, it just gave you a really powerful, uplifting feeling to know that people could unite in such a great number for the same cause,” she recalled.
Friday at midnight, LaBad and a group of more than 50 others will hop a bus and head back to Washington to take part in the 50th anniversary celebration of the historic march.
The trip was organized by the Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church in Schenectady, but has drawn participants from as far away as Glens Falls, Canaan, Fonda and Canajoharie.
The bus will drive all night to get passengers to Washington in time for the 8 a.m. rally at the Lincoln Memorial, which will be followed by a march to the King Memorial.
In addition to LaBad, two others embarking on the trip attended the original March on Washington in 1963. Children as young as 4 or 5 also will make the trek, according to LaBad’s daughter, Pam Carter of Schenectady, who will join her mother on the trip.
LaBad, who grew up in the South and attended segregated schools set aside for blacks, recalled hearing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the march. She said she was struck by “what a strong presence he was, how genuine he appeared to be and the depth of his feelings about peace and nonviolence, and how he felt about humankind — about people, period — beyond race and color.”
LaBad also attended the original rally through a trip arranged by Mount Olivet.
Marion Lathrop of Canaan and her husband, Don, were in Washington that day, too, and will join the group from Mount Olivet for Saturday’s rally.
“It was just a day of love,” Marion Lathrop said of the original march. “It was incredible. Everybody was just so calm, so peaceful, and there was great music, there were wonderful speeches, people were friendly and well-dressed — most of the men had on suits and ties and jackets; women had on dresses. It was a different time.”
The sanitary facilities provided for the crowd of more than 200,000 also left her with a lasting memory: “There were many, many, many Porta-Johns, and what impressed us was that some of those people from the South had never been in integrated public bathrooms before. That’s impressive. Nowadays, you don’t think anything of that, but that was a big deal to us that day.”
Lathrop, who is white, said she and her husband went to the rally by arrangement of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Although LaBad said the first march was a catalyst for positive change, a half-century later, she believes there is still much more work to be done.
“The climate in America now is reversing and regressing back to prior to 1963, and I feel that all people who care about America and who care about human beings, regardless of what your race is, we need to get back to how we united before for different causes,” she asserted. “Right now, the climate is gridlock in the House and in the Senate, and they’re talking about cutting everything — food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. We’re closing schools all over America, the infrastructure is falling down, and I just don’t believe our forefathers, when they wrote the Constitution, wanted to see this country deteriorate.”
Lathrop said she hopes the rally will help put racial issues on the front burner and also remind young black people of what others have gone through to advance civil rights.
“There is so much for the young black teenagers to be proud of in their heritage, and I’m not sure that they always remember,” she said.
LaBad predicted Saturday’s march will prompt a new grass-roots movement for change, both nationally and locally.
“I think people will realize that, ‘Oh wow, we’re all here together, and we’re all about the same thing, so we need to get busy and do what we have to do,’ ” she said.