Panel discusses 1963 civil rights march

A panel discussion on the 1963 March on Washington’s effects on the city and the civil rights movement highlighted a symposium to honor the march Wednesday.

Currently on display at GW’s Marvin Center and Gelman Library, “Looking Back … Moving Forward: The March on Washington 35 Years Later” is a compilation of Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy’s papers and mementos from his work as D.C. coordinator for the historic march and other civil rights activism from the past 35 years.

“I have seen an indifference in the youth today,” said GW junior Jeanette Ortiz in her introduction of panelists. “Diversity is our strength, not our weakness. We must energize the spirit captured by the march.” D.C. Mayor Marion Barry (D) cited the March on Washington and the student movement as reasons he settled in D.C.

“I saw D.C. as a challenge with no separate government and a strong white power structure,” said Barry, referring to his introduction to D.C. politics.

Panelist Sterling Tucker, who led the Urban League from 1956 to 1964 and was one of the volunteers who helped set up the march, said “the four M’s” were essential to the movement.

“There was the mission, the movement, the message and the messenger,” Tucker said. “Each was essential.”

Progress came before the first desegregation laws were passed, he said.

“One of the first fruits of freedom was not just the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but Washington’s Home Rule Act,” Fauntroy said. “We were the last colony.”

In the second half of the symposium, panelists addressed the state of Washington politics and said the spirit of the march is no longer present. Tucker cited the recent low turnout in the city’s primary election for mayor.

Youths are apathetic to the movement because they feel helpless, Fauntroy said.

“People are complacent when they think they can’t make a difference,” he said. “People are 18 and registered to vote. That in itself is a movement.”

Ortiz passionately related her experience with her young peers to the panelists.

“The spirit is there, but people are tired,” she said. “People have begun to settle. We need to continue to fight.”

Fauntroy said he hopes the African-American community continues to get involved in politics.

“Things are going to get better,” Fauntroy said. “I say, all souls to the polls.”

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