Saturday, August 24, 2013

GUEST COMMENTARY: Kansas Rep. Willie Dove recalls attending MLK's March on Washington

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Kansas State Representative Willie Dove participated in the March on Washington in August, 1963 and attended Dr. Martin Luther King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech. With the 50th anniversary of those events next week, he has written a column on his recollections.


KANSAS CITY, KAN. --- We took buses from New Bern, North Carolina to Washington D. C. with one thing in mind: To let the country know that we were going to where justice would finally be given to Negroes. I can remember my grandmother Mary Jane Dove was so afraid of something happening to us.

One day she came to the county jail and gave us fresh corn bread through the bars of the jail after we had been threatened with fire hoses at a drive-in in New Bern, one block from the Catholic school I attended. We were young and unafraid of the consequences. I recall we assembled at a local church and learned how to protect ourselves in a non-violent manner.

When I think of the bus ride, I recall much laughter and singing “We Shall Overcome”.

I remember the older students staying close to the younger ones to give them support and boost their confidence. Some did not need to be protected because we had had enough of being treated like the slave of the day. I recall the restrooms, water fountains, traveling accommodations and hotel rooms catering to “Whites Only”. Those signs reminding us of “where our place should be” according to some white people, made me ill as a youngster.

Before the civil rights movement took place, I recall my grandmother grabbing me by the arm when I sat down at the S. H. Kress store downtown, telling me I couldn’t do it. A few years later when I learned we were going to picket the Kress store by sitting down and ordering a soda I was first in line. That day we sang “We Shall Overcome” from the New Bern jail.

When we reached Washington, D. C. August 28th 1963 early morning, everyone was tired, but very excited to be there.

I recall leaning against a tree waiting for Dr. Martin Luther King to appear at the end of the line-up of speakers. When he started to speak I could feel the excitement in the air, the proudness of boys and girls who had taken great risks.

It was a hot summer day with no air conditioning on the bus to my recollection. There were many times I used the tree for shade and comfort. Sometimes it feels like I was in a movie, playing a part in history many will never know. My part of this march is forever in my consciousness. Sometimes I can see and hear Dr. King speaking in my daily walk of life. There are many times I feel like I’m still there, witnessing history from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Last November, I returned to Washington after winning election to the Kansas House of Representatives. I stood on the Speaker’s balcony, and in the distance I could see the Washington Monument. Suddenly I was back there on that hot August 28th 1963. Emotion overtook me as I reflected how far I had come in the last 50 years. My story is one of Providence. It’s truly an “only in America” story. I am here because of the sacrifices of others in the name of justice.

There is still work to be done. The challenges are different now. We have to reduce our dependence on government, and increase opportunities for all. That teenager leaning against the tree 50 years ago will continue to go to work and remind those young minds of the sacrifices endured for all to prosper with freedom as our goal.