Area residents reflect on 1963 King speech
By Lisa DeNeal Post-Tribune correspondent August 27, 2013 11:10PM
Alberta Burnett of Gary was a member of the Gary Chapter of the NAACP's Women's Auxiliary and active in getting a caravan from Gary to Washington, D.C. to participate in the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963. | Photo provided
Updated: September 29, 2013 6:43AM
On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, area residents and political figures reflect on that memorable day, Aug. 28, 1963, and what it meant to them then, and what it means now.
Danielle Patterson, originally of Gary, now lives in Indianapolis and works for the American Heart Association. She reflected on her late grandmother, Alberta Burnett.
“My grandmother was a member of the Gary branch of the NAACP’s Women’s Auxiliary and helped organize a City of Gary caravan to participate in the March on Washington in 1963. With other women, they sent letters, collected the money and prepared meals for the caravan.
“One of her proudest moments came when she participated in the march. She was one of thousands in the crowd listening to a young minister deliver one of the most important speeches of all time. I remember her telling me how she cried, cheered, sang and cried some more and even witnessed a number of soldiers and police officers crying and cheering.”
Patterson said her grandmother went to Washington for her children and future grandchildren and also went because she wanted America to know that they were somebody and they mattered.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said she was 3 years old when the 1963 March on Washington occurred. However, when she took her daughter, Jordan, back to Washington last weekend to start her second year at Harvard University, they did participate in the 50th anniversary celebration.
“I wanted Jordan to get a real live history lesson and understand how far we have come,” Freeman-Wilson said.
Indiana state Rep. Vernon G. Smith was starting his first year as a student at Indiana University Northwest in 1963.
“I could not afford to attend and participate in the march. I remember watching it on television and King’s words ... I was mesmerized by his voice and that speech. To see so many people come together for civil rights, it was a very emotional day for me. I cannot remember if I jumped and shouted at the TV as King spoke, but I know I was very emotional.”
Gary resident Creora Diaz said she watched the 1963 March on Washington on TV at home with her family.
“First of all, I was amazed at the diversity of the crowd gathered in Washington, D.C.,” Diaz said. “Seeing whites and blacks and other nationalities together for one cause; seeing celebrities blend with everyday people, I was truly amazed.”
Diaz added that while many changes were made for African-Americans, 50 years later the struggle for equality and ending racism is very much alive … even against each other.
“I don’t care how many blacks become successful or have a lot of money, your color, as far as others see it, is black or brown. I also have to say that a lot of blacks today don’t plan or set goals like we used to years ago. It’s like everything is in reverse and whatever was done in the past does not mean anything. It always has to take a racial incident, like Trayvon Martin’s murder, to get us jumping up to do something. We should be jumping up to do something before something bad happens.”
State Rep. Charlie Brown said he was unable to attend the 1963 march because his car broke down Aug. 27.
“I was a teacher at Carver Elementary School and school did not start until the day after Labor Day. I considered going but my car would not start. I watched it on TV and it was incredible.”
However, Brown added that years later things have turned drastically in a negative light.
“Today, states are stifling peoples’ right to vote, we are no longer the largest minority population, Hispanics are. And instead of the KKK we have to deal with the Tea Party and the continuous fighting from the Republican Party,” Brown said.
“We have to wake up and make changes and the only way it will happen is to have a massive voter turnout in local, state and national elections. I hope that after the 50th anniversary commemoration held last Saturday people returned ready to mobilize to make changes. Will it be different this time or was this just a party in D.C.?”