Considering the March on Washington

Considering the March on Washington

By Walter Morris Anthony Baker, Ph.D.

 

 

 

Clearly August of 1963 was a significant period in the history of America. John F. Kennedy was President of the United States. Lyndon Johnson was his Vice President. Most Negroes across the entire United States felt that oppressed peoples had friends in the White House.Less than three months before the March on Washington, I had received a Bachelor of Arts degree from McMurry College. Less than one week after receiving that degree I fled Abilene for Chicago in search of a brighter future than I could imagine for myself here at home. At that time Abilene still operated under the old cultural norms and legal decrees that supported segregation in virtually every aspect of human life. {{more}}My departure from Abilene , was motivated by the desire to escape from “Jim Crow” in search of equal opportunity. For me, equal opportunity translates to “Liberty and Justice for All” . In Chicago, this naive rural west Texas born Negro, quickly recognized that Jim Crow thrived in “the North” as well as the southern states. Ethnic lines were as present in that great metropolis as in the dusty fields of western Texas. Perhaps those Chicago lines were more faintly drawn, more difficult to discern, more subtly enforced, and more difficult to combat. However, in Chicago I encountered a Black intelligencia. I found Negroes who were more broadly informed than those I had known in Texas. I found Negroes who were well equipped and willing to fully engage in the struggle for justice. I found men and women who were prepared to employ a wide variety of avenues toward that goal. While I had learned little of an imminent March on Washington in Texas, in Chicago there were plenty of opportunities to join the conversation about strategies intended to move the United States toward affording all U.S. citizens all the benefits of full citizenship.As I look backward, I am mortified by the fact that at the age of twenty-three I had never enjoyed U.S. citizenship in its fullness. Throughout the first twenty-three years of my life I was unable to walk the streets of the land of my birth without fear. I was unable to access freely, without the threat of bodily harm, the best public education available in my hometown. I was unable to earn a living doing the work that I preferred to do, rather society dictated the work that I would be allowed to do and in many ways dictated how I would be able to spend those hard earned dollars.When I reached Chicago, was I ripe for picking for those who would recruit a young Black man to join “the Movement”? The answer is, “Absolutely”.Then why did I not become a marcher. Why did I not join the Black Panthers? Why did I not, in service to the improvement of my own quality of life and that of my identity group, do myriad behaviors that were offered me?I was but seven months Emmett Till’s senior. In the same month that Emmett Till was murdered, my father enrolled me in the white high school in the rural west Texas town of Ranger. His courageous act preceded the racial vitriol experienced by the Arkansas Nine by nearly two years. With that as background, in 1963 my focus was finding peace in my life and the opportunity to excel professionally. Misinformation such as, “Dr. Martin Luther King is a communist and anyone who follows him is a communist”, occupied a prominent place in my thought processes. “Non-violence will lead to the annihilation of the Negro people. They are going to kill all of Us.” This kind of crazy thinking kept thousand of Negroes from acting on their own behalf, I among them. Did I attend meetings designed to recruit folks to the movement? Yes. While in Chicago I listened to speeches by Dick Gregory, Stokely Carmichael, Harry Belafonte, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others.Fear and ignorance are a terrible combination. This was my illness: Fear and ignorance, the same illness suffered by thousands of my Negro and Caucasian brothers. They kept us from speaking truth to power and doing the right thing. Do I regret not being present at the March on Washington? Yes!I want to make it crystal clear to the reader of this piece and/or viewer of this video that preparation for the March On Washington commenced at the moment the first African slaves set foot on soil in the Americas. From that point forward the minds of the descendants of those slaves were locked in on the goal of “Justice for All”.Millions of humans around the world enjoy a larger measure of Liberty and Justice today than was possible even at the time of my birth in 1939. The measure of liberty we enjoy resulted from the work of millions who endured, persisted and persevered with the hope that change would come.