Bayard Rustin and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1963 A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Rustin-KingVice President of the AFL-CIO, and Bayard Rustin, Organizer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined forces to organize a civil rights march for jobs and freedom in Washington, DC.

bayardrustinWithout benefit of the internet, cell phones or the 24-hour news cycle, Rustin, the chief strategist behind the march, pulled off the largest mass demonstration in American history on August 28, 1963.

250,000 people, men and women from all walks of life, marched peacefully from the Washington Monument, along the reflecting pool to the base of the Lincoln Memorial.

Martin Luther King’s iconic I Have a Dream speech was delivered that day but also a call to action from John Lewis of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Bob Dylan, Marian Anderson , Mahalia Jackson and Peter, Paul and Mary sang. Actors Ossie Davis, Paul Newman, Lena Horne, Sidney Poitier and Charlton Heston (go figure) supported the march.

The “Big Six” organizers: James Farmer (Congress of Racial Equality), Martin Luther King, Jr. (Southern Chistian Leadership Conference), John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and Whitney Young, Jr. (National Urban League) met with President John F. Kennedy early in the day to assure the President of their peaceful intentions.

The march is credited with helping to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Day the King Died

The Day the King Died
(Detroit, 1968)

She saw it on television, the King was dead and mama was crying. She said he was a real good man and then held onto me so tight I could hardly breathe. Every time mama answered the phone she cried again. Daddy hugged mama a long time.

I didn’t have to go to school so I watched TV. Black boy (2)Wile E. Coyote was trying to catch the Road Runner but he kept falling off a cliff or getting smashed as flat as paper. When daddy changed the channel, we saw buildings on fire and lots of smoke and people running around just like in the cartoons. Daddy told me everybody was mad.

“Are you mad, daddy?”

“Yes, I’m angry son. I’m sad, too, because Dr. King was trying to help our people and now he’s gone.”

Daddy took a handkerchief from his back pocket and blew his nose. Then we heard a big rumble and the house kinda shook. Daddy ran to the window and I followed. An army tank was rolling down the street in front of our house. It was green and had a long gun on the front and funny wheels. It sort of reminded me of the giant tortoise at the Detroit Zoo.

Uncle Butch came to our house. He had a refrigerator and a bunch of meat. Daddy wanted mama to cook some ham for Uncle Butch, but she wouldn’t do it.

“Sam, you know that stuff is looted. I’m not going to cook it or eat it. It doesn’t belong to us.”

Mama sat at the kitchen table and folded her arms. The vein on daddy’s neck jumped like it did when he was paying bills. He got mama’s biggest pot and put water in it.

“Woman, we are not going to throw away good food,” he yelled. “I’ll cook the damn meat myself. Money don’t grow on trees.”

Daddy said that a lot. About trees. He was right. Me and Kenny shot marbles under that big oak in his yard every Saturday for the whole summer and we didn’t see even one penny.

For dinner, mama made spaghetti but daddy said he was going to have a ham sandwich. He offered me a piece and I took it.

“How is it, Casey?” mama asked.

It tasted like a rubber band. One time Kenny and me ate a rubber band. I had tears in my eyes.

“What’s wrong, Casey, is it too salty?” mama asked. She was giving daddy the evil eye.

Daddy was chewing and swallowed hard to make his sandwich go down. He gave me a drink of his water.

“You are a stubborn man. To stubborn to eat crow.”

Daddy just kept on chewing. I never tasted crow, but I think it might be better than looted ham.

Mama, daddy and me watched TV and mama cried some more. “They shot Dr. King,” she said after we said our prayers, “but they can never kill him.

When I fell asleep I was thinking about Dr. King and the Road Runner.


Eva Jessye: Women of the March on Washington-In Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

She “was the first black woman to receive international distinction as a professional choral conductor” reads the Wikipedia entry for Eva Jessye.  But I hadn’t even heard of her and wondered why she and her chorale had been invited personally by Martin Luther King, Jr. to be part of the official program for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.


Jessye began her musical career as a teenager organizing choral groups in her hometown in Kansas where she attended college at age thirteen.  In 1919, she was the choir director for Morgan State College in Baltimore.  She formed the 16-member Eva Jessye Choir in 1926 performing regularly on WOR radio in New York and touring the country.  In 1929, she was the choral director for the MGM film Hallelujah directed by King Vidor; in 1933, Jessye worked with composer Virgil Thomson and author Gertrude Stein on the opera Four Saints in Three Acts which opened with an all black cast on Broadway a year later.  In 1935, Jessye began a two-decade collaboration with composer George Gershwin as his choral director for Porgy & Bess.  She also appeared in several movies.


Ms. Jessye’s travels throughout the U.S. gave her first-hand experience with Jim Crow laws and she joined many of her contemporaries-including Mary McLeod Bethune, Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson-as an active supporter of the civil rights movement.  Perhaps King admired her for her profound talents as a composer, actress, poet and teacher, as well as her intellect.

Ms. Jessye-a creative force in American music for well over a half century-died in 1992 at the age of 97.  A large collection of her personal papers including music, writing, correspondence, photos, newspaper clippings and legal documents are housed at Pittsburg State University in the Leonard H. Axe Library in Pittsburg, Kansas.  A similar repository of Jessye’s works and papers are at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan where, in 1974, she established the Eva Jessye African-American Music Collection.

At the historic March on Washington, the Eva Jessye choir performed one of her own compositions, “Freedom is a Thing We’re Talking About.”


Photo Credits:

~Eva Jessye. I Dream a World, 1989 copyright Brian Lanker.

~Eva Jessye with Eleanor Roosevelt circa 1940.  Kansas Historical Society


Wintz, Cary D., Finkleman, Paul. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance Volume 1 A-J.  Eva Jessye (p. 617-618)

Conlon, Joan C. Editor.  Wisdom, Wit and Will:  Women Choral Conductors and Their Art.  Eva Jessye chapter by Joan Whittemore (p 419-434).


Eva Jessye Collection.  Pittsburg State University


website: Another Ann Arbor


website:  WGBH Open Vault  Say Brother (1 minute video)