WASHINGTON — Joseph Carter was sure that the Aug. 28 march would be one he’d never forget.
The 27-year-old so was excited about the event and the scheduled speakers that he arrived at the Tidal Basin hours before it began to get a spot right in front. Carter’s pregnant wife, Yvonne, also 27, joined him. The throngs of people, black and white, arm-in-arm, who’d turned up for the demonstration, moved them.
“It was touching,” Yvonne Carter said. “It just brought tears to your eyes and brought a chill to you. To see so many people together at one time—it was a spiritual movement. It was breathtaking. You felt it, you just felt it.”
The Carters were among the more than 250,000 people who went to see and hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others at the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, 47 years ago Saturday. And when the Washington D.C. natives, now both 74, heard about Saturday’s “Reclaim the Dream” rally and march organized by civil rights leaders, they said they had just had to participate.
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“I wouldn’t have missed that for nothing,” said Joseph Carter, now a grandfather of six. “Especially with the situation, the way things are today. It seems like they want to bring things back like it was in the early 50s when the movement first started.”
And though the Carters weren’t able to make the three-mile march from Dunbar High School to the King Memorial last weekend (Mr. Carter has a bad knee), they went to the rally at the King Memorial to hear Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Al Sharpton speak. And the son Yvonne Carter was seven months pregnant with during the March on Washington accompanied them.
Joseph Carter, who retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 1992, said that he had been following the Civil Rights movement since the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. in 1955.
“I’d followed it all the way through, and there was no way in the world that I was going to be stopped from coming down there,” he said of the 1963 march. “And she (Yvonne) felt the same way, although she was pregnant.”
They said they are often asked about that day in 1963.
They recalled the scene: It was hot and muggy, like last Saturday, with crowds stretching from the Lincoln Memorial all the way to the Washington Monument. Security was virtually non-existent. Mrs. Carter, a retired administrator for Washington D.C. public schools, said she was not only taken aback by the massive crowd that had turned up for the 1963 march, but how orderly it was. Some whites who’d been alerted to the country’s race problem through the march later came up to her and her husband to ask them how they felt, she said. She left feeling spiritually uplifted.
“One thing about the march, it was exciting,” Yvonne Carter said. “There were people from everywhere. It was a different experience to see that the movement had come so far.”
Joseph Carter said both Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the Rev. Sharpton’s speech Saturday were inspiring, but in different ways. He said he liked Sharpton because he’s a “no-nonsense person” who “straightens people out.” But Dr. King’s speech stirred something deep inside of him.
“Martin—his oratory really gets you,” he said. “His oratory was something else.”
Yvonne Carter said nothing since has compared to hearing Dr. King speak that day nearly 50 years ago.
“To hear that man get up and say ‘I have a dream,’ and the way he spoke, no one can copy that,” she said. “No one could ever do that. I don’t care who it is. I don’t think anybody could ever do that again.”
And yet, even though marches are not as common today as they were back in the 1960s, Joseph Carter said there’s still a need for that kind of civil action.
“Marching arouses the consciousness of what needs to be attended to,” he said. “If you don’t do that, you won’t arouse people. How are people going to know what you’re disgruntled about?”