Eugene T. Paslov: 47 years ago today, Rev. King gave us all hope for a better America
August 28, 2010
On Aug. 28, 1963, my wife Susan and I were standing on the Mall, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. It was sweltering; the heat oppressive. But the gentle sway of 250,000 people, spread out on both sides of the reflecting pool as far as the eye could see, gave a sense of calm.
Susan and I made our way to the speakers’ platform by the Lincoln Memorial and found some shade among those holding CIO and AF of L signs. We waited for the speakers.
The crowd was amazing. We had never seen so many people in one place – official estimates of 200,000 African-Americans and 50,000 whites were probably low. Men, women and children of all races, sometimes holding hands, sometimes singing together. filled the area between the two monuments with harmonious sounds. It was a sea of humanity that had a calming effect on a nation caught in the midst of racial turmoil. The sight and sounds were spectacular on that day in August of 1963.
Susan and I were in a Peace Corps training program at Georgetown University during the summer of ’63. We had read about the proposed March on Washington, but were told that we were not to participate because the Peace Corps officials (including Sargent Shriver, Peace Corps director, and President Kennedy) thought there might be violence with such large crowds. Troops were standing by just outside the city, but were never needed. We ignored the directive, and joined the march. There was no violence, only mutual respect.
The popular folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary were in the crowd that day and performed the Bob Dylan song, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” This song became the anthem for the Civil Rights movement.
Toward early evening the keynote speaker, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., began his address. He mesmerized the crowd. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children stood in rapt anticipation. The Rev. King immediately caught the crowd’s attention: “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream. I have a dream that one day this nation shall rise up and live out the true meaning of the creed: We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”
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On Aug. 28, 1963 – 47 years ago today – the sonorous voice of this black minister from Georgia spread out a giant blanket of hope for the huge crowd. We were all comforted. The words of that speech still comfort a nation attempting to get beyond racial discrimination. Listen.
• Eugene Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools.