Most of them weren’t at the Lincoln Memorial the day Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. But his words have stayed with these four Tacomans, all long-time civil rights activists, for 50 years.
President emeritus of the Tacoma Urban League.
During the march: Was an airman on what now is Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“There wasn’t that much talk about the march, but among black people in America, all of us were interested in the outcome. We followed Dr. King on the radio, TV, any way we could get it.
“Like him, I’m a native Georgian. The Georgia I grew up in was in the deep South and was legally segregated. Hancock County, when I was born, had about 3,000 people in it. That’s roughly what it has today. The mayor is black, as are three of the five people on the county council.
“But not when I grew up. There have been major changes.”
First African American woman to work as a school administrator for the Tacoma School District.
During the march: Was on a leave of absence from Tacoma Schools, teaching on a U.S. military base in Germany.
“You felt like you ought to be home. Not that you could change anything, but you felt that you ought to be a part of it. There was a longing there to come home.
“There was a lot of talk (overseas) concerning it. I had an assistant in my classroom, (a) German, and she and I would have discussions. They knew about the march. It was kind of like comparing notes. They had come through many things also (during World War II).
“What it did in my opinion was to bring to light some of the things that were happening, especially for our youth who had not experienced what the rest of us had. The march brought awareness to the United States and the world about Dr. Martin Luther King and everything that he and we stood for.
“The fight is not over. The awareness and justice is still not where it should be. We need to continue what he started.”
Tacoma’s first African American mayor.
During the march: Was a civil rights activist in Tacoma.
“I think most people watched it privately. I don’t remember any big groups or that sort of thing, but we all paid attention to what was going on. This was part of an ongoing sense that we were going to be victorious in changing America’s opinion about the relationship between black and white people.
“Dr. King’s speech was one of hundreds I had heard and was totally predictable. If you were involved in the movement, these are not strange occurrences. For people who had no history or background, it may have just been monumental.
“But ‘I have a dream,’ he had been saying that for I don’t know how long. He had it down to where he could do it with absolute conviction over and over and over. The impact of the speech was that it got national attention. It was absolutely stirring. It was as moving as a speech could be.
“I heard him speak in 1957 in Detroit. I stood in line for hours to get a front row seat. I stepped right over the barrier that separated him from the audience, and walked up and shook his hand. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.
“I followed him religiously. He was my guy.”
ERROL ALEXANDER A REGIONAL ORGANIZER FOR THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON WHO NOW LIVES IN TACOMA
During the march: Was a regional organizer who spread the word about the event around Ohio, where he was the president for the Sandusky branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He attended the march and now lives in Tacoma.
“They had troops outside. They closed all the government offices, because they expected trouble. We were so scared.
“We had the addresses of attorneys, and if there was going to be trouble, we (the organizers) were going to meet at the Willard Hotel.
“There were at least three people I know (who) collapsed from the heat. We traveled all night. It was exhausting, but we did it, because of people who really believed in this country.
“(During Dr. King’s Speech) there was a calmness and a stillness.
“At the corner of Louisiana Avenue and Massachusetts (in Washington, D.C.) was a group of Boy Scouts waving flags. That made me think: ‘This is America,’ seeing them cheering us on.”Interviews by staff writer Alexis Krell