By Ed Stozek
For the Herald
On Aug. 28, 1963, approximately 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The event concluded with Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “I Have a Dream.”
With an appeal to end economic and employment inequalities, King outlined the long history of racial injustice in America and encouraged his audience to hold their country accountable to its own founding promises of freedom, justice and equality.
Originally slated to speak for four minutes King went on to address the crowd for 16 minutes delivering one of the most iconic speeches in American history. The March on Washington and King's speech became turning points in the Civil Rights Movement.
One of the March on Washington participants, Ivan Innerst, had grown up in Los Angeles where it was common to interact and be friends with 90 miles from Washington, D.C., and early on the morning of August 28, along with members of the York Action for Peace group, Ivan and his father boarded a chartered bus and headed to their destination.
At the grounds of the Washington Monument, participants greeted each other with handshakes and hugs. Waving their protest signs and singing songs such as “We Shall Overcome”, they began the one-mile march down Constitution Avenue from the Washington Monument to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
On that sunny and hot August day Ivan noted that it was a beautiful experience to stand shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other freedom marchers.
A state-of-the-art sound system greatly contributed to the peaceful protest.
Along with the speeches, music played a vital role in the March on Washington. Ivan was moved by the folk and spiritual songs performed by artists including Joan Baez, Odetta, Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan had written “Blowing in the Wind” the previous year and in 1963 the song was made famous in a recording by Peter, Paul and Mary. Dylan’s lyrics echoed about fighting for the rights and equality of people in society.
“How many years can some people exist, before they are allowed to be free? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.”
Music was one of Ivan’s passions. Billed as Freeberg and Friend, Jim Freeberg and Ivan performed many of those familiar folk and spiritual songs as a duo at social functions at the Jamestown campus in 1962-63.
Near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Ivan stood fairly close to the podium where the musicians performed and civil rights leaders spoke for almost three hours issuing urgent calls to action.
Then the “Queen of Gospel,” Mahalia Jackson, sang two spiritual songs and was followed by Martin Luther King Jr. who delivered his iconic speech, “I Have a Dream.”
As one of the participants in the March on Washington, Ivan Innerst experienced an important event that he will always remember.
Years later at the Dauphin Regional Comprehensive Secondary School, he used “I Have a Dream” as a teaching tool in his Grade 11 English class.
The students listened to and analyzed the effectiveness of this timeless speech and how it could move an audience of 250,000 people.
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)