Fiery speeches, throngs of people and crowd reactions to stirring words were among prominent memories of the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, a local retired professor said Wednesday.
Paul Scheele of Oneonta said he was an intern working in the U.S. Bureau of the Budget during the summer of 1963. The civil rights movement had been moving ahead in “fits and starts” and the atmosphere in Washington, D.C., was tense, he said, but he decided to join the crowds Aug. 28 that year.
That March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which drew about 250,000 people, focused and energized the civil rights movement, said Scheele, 79, a retired political science professor who drove to Washington on Saturday for an anniversary event.
At the 1963 march, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. used fiery rhetoric but emphasized non-violence in his “I Have a Dream” speech, Scheele said.
“I knew at the time I was hearing a great orator give a great oration,” Scheele said. “He must have labored over that speech.”
Hearing King’s speech at the march is an enduring memory, echoed Fred R. Miller, 83, a retired speech and communications professor from SUNY Oneonta.
Miller said he went to Washington to retrace his steps during a 25th anniversary event but didn’t travel to Washington this week. Miller said in the late 1950s he and others were arrested in San Antonio for trying to integrate a lunch room.
“Our nation is much better off as a community” since the 1963 civil rights march, Miller said, but injustices persist in the areas of voting rights, immigration and racial profiling.
A march in Washington on Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the march and its significance in the civil rights movement. And on Wednesday, New York’s two federal senators called for continued efforts toward equality and justice.
In Oneonta, a community march and interfaith service were held Tuesday night, and programs were planned at the State University College at Oneonta on Wednesday.
Scheele, who posted a civil rights march display at City Hall this week, said he wasn’t “on the front line” of the movement but emphasized lessons during his teaching career.
The role of labor and church leaders, in addition to the efforts of civil rights advocates, was key to the resulting attendance at the 1963 march, he said. Many in the crowd wore their “Sunday best” clothes, said Scheele, who recalled that he wore a suit and tie.
“The crowd controlled itself,” he said. “The same was true Saturday.”
From Washington on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer issued a statement.
“On this day 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. kindled Americans’ hopes that his dream of full equality could be achieved, Schumer said. “While we have made great progress, we still haven’t achieved that laudable and necessary goal.”
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who visited Delhi and Oneonta on Wednesday, also issued a statement about the civil rights movement.
“Dr. King spoke of ‘the fierce urgency of now’ which I hope this Congress will embrace,” Gillibrand said. “Among the many issues requiring that fierce urgency of now is restoring the Voting Rights Act this year ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
“The Voting Rights Act had been a cornerstone of ensuring the rights won in the civil rights movement continue to stand strong today, until it was essentially gutted by the Supreme Court this past June,” she said. “The right to vote, that too many died to obtain, is a sacred human right.”