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50 Years Ago In Washington, DC…and Eugene, OR

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

March on Washington, 1963, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Today, August 28, marks the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington and the important words shared by various speakers, most notably Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. The event and the words spoken that day brought to light the horrendous conditions African Americans lived in and encountered across America, especially in the South where Jim Crow segregation pervaded nearly every aspect of daily life. By 1963, thousands of African Americans had participated in protests against these inequalities and numerous historic moments had already occurred up to this point, including the Montgomery bus boycott (1955), sit-ins (1960), freedom rides (1961), and voter registration campaigns (1962-1966) organized and led by various activist groups--Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE).  However, the leaders and activists knew that they had to keep the momentum going and ensure that the issues stayed fresh in the news, television, and the conscience of Americans.

Under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, the then seventy-four-year-old head of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, he and other activists began the preliminary plans for this historic March on Washington. In actuality, the march on the nation's capital had been a life-long project for Randolph who had initially proposed this idea years ago in 1941 when he threatened President Roosevelt into issuing an executive order to establish a commission to ensure federal contractors did not discriminate again blacks. Together,  Randolph and numerous other leaders, including those lesser known such as Baynard Rustin, revisited the idea and planned and coordinated this massive event in 1963.  And, together, they witnessed history being made that day. Not just the orations that were given, but the number of people who came from near and far, the non-violent march through Washington, DC, and the later discussions with President Kennedy.

Although there are numerous reports of the activities in Washington, DC of the historic event, more interesting are the reports of what occurred here in Eugene on that exact same day. According to an article (see below) in the Register-Guard in the August 29, 1963 edition, the Eugene chapter of the Congress for Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.), headed by Martin Acker, also held a local rally in conjunction with the March on Washington. The article titled "C.O.R.E. President Calls Eugene Rights Rally 'Highly Successful'," stated that "the rally consisted of a march by more than 100 civil rights supporters from Lincoln School to the downtown park blocks and a number of addresses by community leaders before some 400 persons," with a third of the marchers being African American. At this event were numerous leaders from the Eugene community who had important words to share with the community.

A few quotes of interest from the article are below:

  • Martin Acker, President of C.O.R.E.: "more people in Eugene are beginning to say they should be doing something about problems of discrimination. We got from representatives of the community strong expressions of their belief that Eugene should be an equal opportunity community. The function of C.O.R.E. now is to see that discrimination will be eliminated here."
  • Rev. Bruce Pond, Vice-President of the Eugene Ministerial Assn.: "There is a growing awareness among white that the [African American] won't continue to be satisfied with remaining a second class citizen. There may be those who might be disturbed by this march....but this march shouldn't be necessary."
  • Arthur Flemming, University of Oregon President: He stated that his one main objective was "to focus public opinion in such a way that Congress will understand the president's civil rights program." He also stated that he welcomed the opportunity to take part in what he termed "a significant revolution that must and will succeed. The civil rights revolution if successful will show other nations of the world that the United Stated adheres strictly to the Concept of the dignity and worth of all human beings."
  • Catherine Lauris, Eugene Councilwoman: "The United States is one of the few places on earth where the unique legal machinery exists for people to seek the full measure of their rights and privileges. In the land of the free, no man should still have to be seeking his freedom."

In addition to this article, an editorial piece also appeared in this same edition (see below).