‘Dream’ Lives 50 Years Later
Avery Post, 89, of Hanover attended the March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963, with a contingent from the Garden City Community Church on Long Island where he was pastor. Post, now a resident of Kendal at Hanover, recalls the heat, the crowd and hearing Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963. The march was organized to support proposed civil rights legislation and end segregation. King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, advocating nonviolent action against America's racial inequality. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968. (AP Photo)
Hanover — In 1963, more than a quarter of a million people gathered in Washington, D.C., for what would become a defining moment in the nation’s civil rights movement — the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Today, more than 100,000 are expected to gather to commemorate next week’s 50th anniversary of the march.
Upper Valley residents from across generations, like Americans from around the country, are reflecting upon what the historic peaceful protest means for them.
“It was time to march,” said the Rev. Avery Post, 89, a retired Congregationalist minister now living at Kendal at Hanover. “It was beginning to be the moment.”
At 2 a.m. on August 28, 1963, Post and members of his Garden City, N.Y., congregation boarded buses to make the trip down to Washington for Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington. With the first light of the day, silhouettes of waving crowds lining the highways appeared, cheering them on toward Washington.
“From the very beginning there was a high morale, high hope, the realization that we could be part of something historic,” Post said. “There was energy in the air; there was a sense of movement, because what we were doing was joining a movement.”
As the buses unloaded at the National Mall in Washington, Post was struck by the diversity of the crowd. “There were a lot of people who not only wanted to be there, but some who had to be in terms of their own conscience, their own commitments, their own vision and hope,” he said.
The march was a hot day of speeches, music and peaceful protest, culminating with Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
“The speech was an expression of purpose, a vision that the community wanted and that the country e_SEmD if it not entirely wanted — certainly needed,” Post said.
Post was a minister with the United Congregational Church and served as president of the church from 1977 to 1989. Through his work with the church, Post met King several times, and worked with him on a committee addressing the Vietnam War. “He was a very good listener,” Post recalled. “He was not talking all the time; he did more listening.”
Post is not the only Upper Valley resident for whom the civil rights movement resonates. Janet Proctor, 71, grew up as a member of one of the only African American families living in Hanover at the time.
“I felt a certain safety being in the north and being in a family that was known and respected,” she said. “But at the same time we certainly understood that if we were in slightly different circumstances our lives could be very different.”
In 1963, Proctor — then Janet Truman — was a recent graduate from Mount Saint Mary College and followed the civil rights movement closely.
“I definitely saw that the March on Washington and all of the hard work of the people who supported the civil rights movement was opening doors for me,” she said. “It sent the message that people like me did have rights and should have opportunities, and all of the negativity regarding us as less than human or separate but equal was really a disgusting doctrine.”
Susannah Heschel, a professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, will be in Washington to take part in the ceremonies next week.
Heschel has a personal connection to the civil rights movement: her father was Rabbi and Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with King at the Selma, Ala., civil rights march in 1965. Rabbi Heschel and King were close friends: King spoke at Heschel’s 60th birthday party and after King’s assassination 10 days later, Heschel was the rabbi asked to speak at King’s funeral.
In Washington, Susannah Heschel will present a lecture with social activist and civil rights movement leader Julian Bond about African American-Jewish Relations. “Going to Washington to participate in the commemoration of the 1963 March is deeply meaningful to me for its obvious historical significance, but also on a personal level,” she said.
Accompanying Heschel to Washington will be Dierre Upshaw, 26, whose great grandfather also participated in the 1965 Selma march. Upshaw graduated from Dartmouth in 2009, but returned this summer to work with Heschel.
“The 50th anniversary is something that is of tremendous significance,” Upshaw said, referencing his great grandfather, who was an African American living during the civil rights movement and fought the struggle firsthand. “I think about my great grandfather: big shoes, big steps, the path that he paved for me, and being able to look back and see how much has happened in the last 50 years ... ”
Dartmouth students Jordan Terry, Danielle Moore and Taylor Enoch-Stevens, all rising juniors, will also attend the ceremonies. Terry, who is president of Dartmouth’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that while he is excited to commemorate the 50th anniversary, the country is still faced with many issues of inequality, particularly centered on the LGBT community and civil rights for immigrants and undocumented workers.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who also attended the 1963 march when he was a student at the University of Chicago, echoed Terry’s sentiment that while the fiftieth anniversary of the march is occasion to reflect upon and celebrate progress, the country has a long way to go.
“On one hand we have come a very, very long way in achieving (King’s) vision of a country which has far more racial justice today than there was in his lifetime. We have a right to be proud of our accomplishments,” Sanders said in a video posted on his senate website.
“But on the other hand, let us not forget that a lot of his dreams still have not been fulfilled. So we have a lot of work in front of us if in fact we are to fully honor and give respect to this great man.”
Post, the Congregationalist minister, also carries mixed feelings about the progress in equality over the past 50 years.
“I’m grateful for the early pioneers, courageous and strong visionaries, and for all the followers and heirs,” he said. “But, unfortunately, inequality remains.”