Woman still regrets not attending historic March on Washington
When did Jeannie and I start thinking that it was too hot to go? On Aug. 27 when the temperature on Long Island was 77 F? Certainly not on the 26th, when it registered a pleasant 73 F. It must have been Washington, D.C.'s temperature on Aug. 27 — 81.3 F. For decades afterward I honestly thought it was the high, unbearable heat that kept us from jumping on a bus at the New York Port Authority or Penn Station and joining thousands of fellow pilgrims from Milwaukee, Little Rock, Birmingham and Boston for the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Wednesday, Aug. 28, 1963 — the landmark day when Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, which a poll of 1999 scholars ranked as the top American speech of the 20th century. Sixty-thousand white Americans joined the mainly black supporters, in this defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. Jeannie and I decided at the last minute not to climb aboard a bus or train, one of the two or three major regrets in my life. I can't remember what the other two are, but we were not there.
I loathe hot weather, preferring instead to have icicles hang from my nose. Either that or nothing above 72 F. But 81.3 F isn't exactly a heat wave.
The next day journalists cited that the 250,000 civil rights supporters undoubtedly contributed to the feeling of extreme confinement and exhaustion. Some recall the day as one of the hottest in their lives; others thought it was a mild summer day. And hundreds cooled off their feet in the Reflecting Pool. But Jeannie and I were not there.
We missed not only the speech heard around the world, broadcast live via radio and television, but a slew of celebrities — Mahalia Jackson; Josephine Baker, who flew in from Paris; Peter, Paul and Mary; Rosa Parks; Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; James Garner; Diahann Carroll; Dick Gregory; James Baldwin; Sidney Poitier; Burt Lancaster and Charlton Heston ... Charlton Heston? Yes, Charlton Heston! And Marlon Brando holding up a cattle prod from Gadsden, Alabama as an indication of segregation hatred. We coulda been contenders! But Jeannie and I were not there.
Addendum: It was a pleasant summer day (upper 70s) in New York when on Aug. 28, 1963 Manhattan police wrongly acccused George Whitmore, Jr., an African American man, of a double homicide known as the Wylie-Hoffert Career Girl Murders. Whitmore's treatment by the authorities was cited as an example that led the U.S. Supreme Court to issue the guidelines known as the Miranda rights, with the Supreme Court calling Mr. Whitmore's case "the most conspicuous example" of police coercion in the country when it issued its 1966 ruling establishing a set of protections for suspects, including the right to remain silent.
Patricia Perkins is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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