Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Durley vividly remembers riding in the back of a bus from his home in Denver, Colorado, where he finished high school to Nashville, Tennessee where he was going to attend college at Tennessee State University. That was over 60 years ago. Four years later as a college senior Durley would be back on the bus again, but this time it was as a leader of college students headed to Washington, D.C. for the inaugural and later historic March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. “I was a foot soldier in the march,” remembered Durley, 81, a former college basketball player at Tennessee State.

Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Durley, 81, in The Atlanta Voice studios, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

The 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, a moment in American Civil Rights history, is August 28, but the march will take place Saturday, Aug. 26. Many of the civil rights leaders and pastors that spoke that day have long since passed away, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Durley, though just a student during that historic gathering of thousands on the mall that day, will have an opportunity to speak this time. He hopes the crowd that he is speaking to is equally as awe inspiring as the one that gathered in 1963. “It’s essential for all of us to be there Saturday,” he said. “It’s critical that every person come to D.C.”Durley, an author, college administrator at both Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse School of Medicine and pastor at Providence Missionary Baptist Church, has carried that day in 1963 with him for decades, even returning to the National Mall for the 50th anniversary of the march a decade ago. He believes the mission and goals for the first march have not changed 60 years later. “It’s kind of sad that 60 years later we have to go back to do what we thought we had already done,” said Durley.He believes the current fights over critical race theory, for example, cam be considered examples of history repeating itself. There are just as many reasons to march on the nation’s capital today than there was 60 years ago. “You can’t start something that never stopped,” Durley said.

There are a few things Durley has to get done before he leaves for Washington. He has to pick up a custom made t-shirt from a local vendor for the special occasion. “It’s going to say ‘If I can, you can,’” Durley said. He explained that if he and the many others that dealt with the atrocities of the Civil Rights Era, then people fighting for justice today can keep the struggle going.“There’s a new level of awareness for young people today,” he said. And that’s good he says because, “We never stopped marching.”The march is planned for 8 a.m. near the Lincoln Memorial. 

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began his career covering sports and news in Atlanta nearly two decades ago. Since then he has written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Southern Cross...