In his stirring August 28, 2013 speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, President Obama’s theme was “because they marched, America changed.” While the media coverage during this 50th anniversary of course focused on Dr. King’s soaring “I Have a Dream” speech from that day, President Obama reminded us all “that day itself also belonged to those ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books, never got on TV.”
In many ways, it also belonged to those ordinary people who could not actually be at the march.
It is easy to forget, with our 20/20 hindsight, that no one (including the organizers of the march) knew whether the march would be successful or not. They weren’t sure how many people would show up. They had organized a potentially massive demonstration in the nation’s capital in just 2 months, in the age of typewriters, rotary dial telephones, carbon paper and mimeograph machines. There were no cell phones, fax machines, e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Communication was slow and reliant on the telephone check-ins from organizers across the country, including thousands of black pastors and churches.
The organizers hoped, but didn’t know, that history was in the making. None of us knew that at the time. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans, black and white, considered whether or not to attend the march. Would it be dangerous? Would there be violence? How could they afford to get there? Would they lose their jobs? Who would take care of the kids? How important was it?
We have living history of that summer of 1963 in the memory of some of the members of Oakhurst Presbyterian Church. What experiences did some of the African American members of Oakhurst Presbyterian have at the time? Did they consider going to the march, and what do they remember?
Whether they attended the March on Washington or not, whether they considered going or not, many of the members of Oakhurst Presbyterian Church of every race and ethnicity have worked for many years toward both justice and economic opportunity, and have shown courage in their everyday lives. In his closing speech on August 28, 2013, President Obama echoed the philosophy of Dr. King about the interconnectedness of us all: “that’s where courage comes from, when we turn not from each other or on each other but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from.” Oakhurst Presbyterian Church’s members embody the courage of this message, as we turn toward one another and tell our stories.
In the words of President Obama, “in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.” The following is one of many stories from the members of Oakhurst Presbyterian Church.