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At March on Washington: The anger, the fear, the love and the hope

By John D. Due Jr. | 8/25/2013, 12:48 p.m. | Updated on 8/25/2013, 12:48 p.m.
The summer of 1963 was hot. I'm not referring to the weather: Young black activists were beginning to question their ...
Thousands rallied at the National Mall Saturday, August 24, 2013, to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic August 28, 1963, March on Washington. (Photo by CNN).

Patricia had gained national notoriety and respect within CORE because of the jail-in and because she had initiated the process which derailed the Kennedy administration's plans to have the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach.

Patricia should have been the substitute speaker representing CORE to replace Farmer.

She had a reputation for standing up to authority -- 49 years later, she even died from a battle with cancer with a defiant look on her face -- and I believe the organizers did not select her to speak because they were afraid of what she would say.

She would have mentioned the violence toward and arrests of 200 youth, including herself, in Tallahassee, Florida, the beatings with chains of young people in Jackson, Mississippi, and violence against demonstrators in other places, but she wouldn't have done it to incite violence in return. She was committed to confronting injustice head on with her words and with civil disobedience, not violence.

Patricia and I were assigned choice positions on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial a few feet from the speakers.

Floyd McKissick, a black attorney who organized CORE in North Carolina, was ultimately chosen to speak on behalf of CORE. (He later became CORE's national director.)

I don't remember what he said because of the day's last speaker.

John Lewis was the SNCC speaker and he displayed the hot anger in his demeanor that the young activists were feeling. But I remember less about what he said and more about what he was not permitted to say -- that we were going to march through Georgia like Sherman marched through Georgia. The organizers objected to the prepared text and he edited his remarks. I don't remember much about what he actually said because of the last speaker.

UAW AFL-CIO labor leader Walter Reuther and other white speakers placed an emphasis on employment and housing.

Whitney Young, the national director of the National Urban League, had the most intelligent speech -- stating the critical problem and the critical things that must be done. But the setting was not a college seminar.

We had come to the march feeling angry. Feeling hopeless about the United States of America.

We did not need a lesson plan. We needed a song. We needed church.

The last speaker

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was the last speaker.

Patricia and I heard gospel singer Mahalia Jackson cry out before he spoke, "Detroit! Give them the Dream Speech!"

And he sang "I Have A Dream..."

I can testify as a witness with my wife about the oceanic wave of love and hope that was felt by 200,000 people after Martin sang his song. That love and hope replaced the anger and hopelessness.

After the speech, Patricia and I were talking about how we were going to get to New York to go to CORE's headquarters. A white couple with that rapture on their face said, "You people need a ride to New York? We will take you."