The Orange Leader
I have a dream today. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
The 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington also marks the anniversary of one of the most famous speeches in American history, Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I have a dream’.
Three months before the 1963 March on Washington, officials in Birmingham, Ala., opened fire hoses and loosed dogs on civil rights protesters. Two months before the march, the civil rights organizer Medgar Evers was murdered outside his home in Jackson, Miss. And a few weeks after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have Dream Speech” echoed down the Washington Mall, a bomb ripped open Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls.
As thousands of marchers made their way to the nation's capital in August 1963 for what was officially billed as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Council Member District 3 Essie Bellfield along with friends Velma Jeter and James Roberts were among the crowds.
“We were near Lincoln’s feet,” Bellfield said about where she was when King gave the now famous speech. “There was a priest and his father from Port Arthur and seven whites that rode on the bus with us.”
Bellfield had tears in her eyes as she spoke of the 3 shallow graves in Mississippi and the bombing in Alabama.
“We can’t forget,” Bellfield said. “A woman left her family in Michigan so people could vote.”
Bellfield refers to the one of the three civil rights activists killed in Mississippi and buried in shallow graves.
“We have come a long way,” Bellfield said. “But we still have a long way to go, blacks and whites alike.”
Bellfield said that Orange is a good city.
“I did not know the difference between white and black,” Bellfield said.
Bellfield was the first woman mayor in Orange.
Mayor Jimmy Sims was 12 years old when the events happens.
Sims said that King’s speech spoke of a foundation that comes from the home.
“That foundation does not happen today,” Sims said. “We have lost that, I am sad to say.”
Sims believes that in some areas society has come a long way.
“We have made some headway,” Sims said. “We are more equal today.”
Sims agrees there is still a long way to go to achieve the perception inspired in King’s speech.
Council Member At Large Position 6 Charles Guillory, who was 12 in 1963, said the events made a huge impact on his life.
“Because of those events I was able to attend college,” Guillory said. “I graduated with a Bachelors in 1974.”
Guillory said he now gives back to the community by substituting at West Orange -Stark Middle School.
“We have come a long way,” Guillory said. “But we still have a long way to go.”
Council Member District 1 Theresa Beauchamp, a junior in high school at the time, said she recalls being scared and devastated by the images she saw on television during that time.
“To see people treated like that, the violence,” Beauchamp said. “Many looked about my age.”
Beauchamp said that she could recall seeing segregated water fountains at the stores.
Beauchamp also said she wished people would come together more.
“Personally, I think we have come a long way,” Beauchamp said. “But we have a long way to go.”
Caroline Kennedy is joining the lineup of speakers commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial.
Organizers say Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, will speak Wednesday, along with Lynda Johnson Robb, the daughter of President Lyndon Johnson.
Other speakers include Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker, Jamie Foxx, President Barack Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Performers will include singers BeBe Winans, LeAnn Rimes and the girl group Identity4Pop, among others.
The "Let Freedom Ring" commemoration is scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Gates will open to the public at 9 a.m.
Bell-ringing commemorations are also planned across the country at more than 100 churches and other sites in almost every state.