Ashland University Sets Local Commemoration of 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech

Ashland University Sets Local Commemoration of 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech

8/15/13 ASHLAND, Ohio - August 28 marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Students and local area residents can join in activities this Aug. 28 to re-create and commemorate this historic event.

Ashland University’s Center for Religious Life, Multicultural Student Services and Ashland Center for Nonviolence are co-sponsoring a march from the Ashland University Seminary on Center Street to the Hawkins-Conard Student Center, where a commemoration of the speech and a discussion will be held.

Those participating in the march should arrive at the parking lot between the Seminary chapel and library by 5:45 p.m. The march will begin at 6 p.m. rain or shine. From the seminary it will move onto Wood Street to College Avenue, and then down College to King Road. The march ends in the Student Center at the corner of King Road, College Avenue and Claremont Avenue.

The commemoration of MLK’s speech and the discussion following will take place beginning at 7 p.m. in the Eagles’ Nest on the ground floor of the Student Center. As with the march, the public is invited and there is no charge.

Church groups, clubs and student groups are encouraged to participate as groups. Individuals and families also are welcome. For more information about the event, contact Vicki Schwab, campus organizer of the event, at vschwab@ashland.edu or the Ashland Center for Nonviolence at 419-289-5313.

If anyone participated in the 1963 march or has special memories from that time in the civil rights movement, please contact Schwab in advance of the event, so those memories can be shared at the program in the Eagles’ Nest.

Benjamin Black, who conceived of the idea of a local march, provides student leadership for this event.

“Something as important as the March on Washington is not to be forgotten. The legacy of the March exists in our everyday lives,” Black said. “We can walk the campus of Ashland University and interact or be friends with someone who is different from us -- 50 years ago many people didn't think this was possible. I want people to realize the importance of history and celebrate the legacy that generations of people before us fought to attain.”

The March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, was a pivotal event in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It brought dramatic national attention to the social, political and economic inequalities faced by black citizens and accelerated the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Between 200,000 and 300,000 marchers filled the National Mall from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. Black citizens made up the majority, but there was a sizable presence of white citizens who also felt that equal rights for all races must be guaranteed.

The march had a peaceful and nonviolent tone, in keeping with Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolent action for social and political change.

According to John Stratton, director of Ashland Center for Nonviolence at Ashland University, commemorations like this remind people of the extent of the Jim Crow laws and codes of behavior that existed throughout the country in the 1960s.

“The laws in many states, enforced by state and local officials, required blacks to use separate drinking fountains, restrooms, waiting rooms, and to ride in special sections of railroads and buses,” Stratton said. “Dances were segregated, movie theaters were segregated, and restaurants refused to serve blacks. This was justified by laws, by religion, by science and by references to history and culture.”

In the North there were fewer Jim Crow laws, but the segregation was still widespread, he said.

“Real estate agents kept neighborhoods segregated by not showing black families homes in white neighborhoods, and similarly banks refused them loans for home purchases in those neighborhoods,” he said. “What real estate agents and bankers didn't do, neighbors did. A black family would in many ways receive the harsh message of not being welcome in the neighborhood.”

Stratton said restaurant owners in the North would explain that they had nothing against Negros but that their customers wouldn't like eating with them. Families who traveled would have to pack food and drive through the night to avoid being turned away from restaurants and hotels, he added.  

He said that sports teams had been using a number of different excuses over the years.

“First that blacks couldn’t play the sport -- not smart enough, not fast enough, no work ethic, etc. -- then later that the other players wouldn't play if a black was on the team,” he said. Owners later used the same excuse -- the players wouldn't work for them -- for not hiring black coaches and managers, he added.  

“This was the world that King challenged, not with violence but with love and with his dream,” Stratton said. “There are many famous quotes from his speech, which he delivered in his memorable oratorical style.”

Among them are:

-- ”I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal’."

-- “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

King finished his speech with this rousing and now famous call for freedom:

“ . . . when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

Guaranteeing the rights and freedom of all Americans continues to be a challenge 50 years after the March on Washington, according to Schwab.

She quotes author James Baldwin as saying that the goal of the student movement in the ’60s was “for white people to see Negroes as people like themselves; otherwise white people will not be able to see themselves as they are.” Baldwin notes, “The failure to look reality in the face diminishes us as a nation as it diminishes a person.”

Schwab says of Martin Luther King Jr., “King acts as our compass, guiding us to simple truths. Part of his meaningfulness is his ability to use the language of religion . . . to lead us simply back to simple truths. And, he wants no one to be left behind—everyone ‘Free at last.’”

Dan Lawson, director of the Center for Religious Life, said “Complacency is our nation’s greatest demon. We can no longer afford to be complacent about equality, justice and human rights. It is my sincere hope that on this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we will renew our vigor to stamp out discrimination on all levels. Let us revive the dream and let justice roll down.”

Ashland University, ranked in the top 200 colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category for 2013, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###