Home Social Justice Fifty years later, OU commemorates March on Washington

Fifty years later, OU commemorates March on Washington

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Exactly fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that he shared with hundreds of thousands of civil rights activists, the Ohio University and Athens communities came together to reflect on the historic event.

The Great March on Washington on the National Mall on August 28, 1963, marked not only the largest march in American history, but a day that pushed the civil rights movement forward to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Just like the Mall in 1963, people packed Templeton-Blackburn Memorial Auditorium as students, faculty and local residents gathered to commemorate the march, celebrate Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and to call on the new generations to pick up where he left off.

David Descutner, the dean of University College and the vice provost for Diversity and Inclusion, opened the event that included a chronology of the civil rights movement in the mid- 1900s, videos, speeches, poetry and music, all to remember the day over 200,000 people converged in Washington to stand up for civil rights.

Akil Houston, professor of media and cultural studies in the Department of African American Studies, asked the generations of the future to not treat Dr. King as an idol to worship like a celebrity, but as an architect for future changes, emphasizing that the civil rights movement was by no means finished in the 1960s.

“King lays out a blueprint for what’s possible and I think that if we return to that, we can get some good ideas about how to change some things,” Houston said. “We’re talking about a country that’s recently faced recession and there’s all kinds of hate crimes, whether it be gender, racial, or class-based, that are still happening.”

Houston pointed out that King did not just speak for racial equality, but several other disparities occurring in a nation that was so seemingly affluent.

“One of the things that he felt was one of the biggest problems that the country faced was not just poverty but indifference to poverty—people not caring about other people,” Houston said. “He questioned the nation’s values and he said if we are more excited technology (not sure, but I think a word is missing in this direct quote) than we are about our spiritual development, then something is wrong.”

In addition to reminding young people that the civil rights movement did not fix everything, Houston made the call to young people to “uplift and change humanity,” a challenge many students agreed to.

“I think it’s important especially for college students…to know the legacy we have in this country and what we can do in the future,” Zainab Kandeh, a commissioner for minority affairs in Student Senate, said.

For Seaira Christian-Daniels, a senior broadcast journalism major who participated in the solo readings of the dream speech, the commemoration was an easy and important way to honor the past and make way for the future.

“It’s so essential to me…a lot of times we forget very quickly things in history they seem a long time ago but they weren’t,” she said.

Several other faculty as well as Athens residents reflected on their first hand experience at the march in 1963.

Francine Childs, a professor emerita of African American Studies at Ohio University, recalled King once sitting next to her at an event while she was in college and turning to her to say: “And young lady, what will be your plight in life?”

Andrew Kreutzer, a professor for the Sports Administration and Facility Management Program, also fondly remembers his father telling him to attend the march, where he described a “sea of humanity” on a day that affected the rest of his life.

Athens residents Peggy Gish, Jan Griesinger, and Arlene Sheak, who all attended March on Washington anniversary events as well as participated in civil rights movements while in college, drew attention to King’s determination to reform inequalities in health care, gender and sexual orientation as well as race.

Through a reading of King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and many moving stories and photographs, Peter Jarjisian, a professor in the School of Music, teared up as he recalled hearing King’s dream. He explained thinking to himself, “that’s the kind of country I want to live in.”

Jarijisian, along with Capricco Vocal Ensemble Director Larry Griffin, led the audience in a powerful reading of the “I Have a Dream Speech” in which the audience took on different roles, followed by a performance of “We Shall Overcome,” the song sang by thousands of marchers in 1963 before the crowd silenced for Dr. King’s celebrated speech.

Derrick Holifield, president of Alpha Phi Alpha, King’s own fraternity, delivered a powerful hand-written poem about the inequalities that still exist today.

“These people were our parents and our grandparents and they were our age when they were participating in sit-ins and they were marching and they were doing all these things that we think were just some huge accomplishment,” Christian said. “They were actually doing what they could to accomplish freedom…things we take now for granted.”



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  1. Linda Runion

    August 29, 2013 at 6:51 PM

    Very well written! Being there in 1963 would have left a mark on all who attended. Reading memories of individuals and hearing quotes from speakers helps preserve the event and makes one realize that this is an ongoing issue.


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