Three days on bus, then dancing at March on Washington

Leonard Freed March on Washington 1

I was a 28 year-old peace activist in San Francisco in 1963 when I got a call from Women for Peace asking if I'd like to go to the March on Washington as one of their delegates. They said apologetically that they couldn't afford plane tickets, would I be okay with three days and two nights on the Congress of Racial Equality bus going there and three nights and two days coming home. Sure, I said.

I didn't know the other peace delegate, a young black woman named Maryann, but we settled in to the very back seat and talked the whole way to Washington. There was a film crew on the bus, headed by Haskell Wexler, making a documentary. We were told that if they zeroed in on us in the middle of a conversation we should just go on with it as if they weren't there. When Maryann and I were in the middle of a conversation about the death penalty they asked us to move to different seats and start over because the motor was making too much noise where we were. We tried starting over, but it wasn't the same.

Before we left, Women for Peace organizers had told us that they barely had money to get us there and back, and none for bail, so we were not to do anything that would get us arrested. We agreed. But the morning of the march, when we were waiting in the designated hotel lobby for the rest of the California delegation so we could all march together, a bunch from Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee came in, singing and conga-lining, and Maryann and I just fell in with them. To hell with the California delegation!

As we approached the White House on our way to the National Mall, we wondered if they planned to sit-in or something. We kept following them, singing. If we got arrested, so be it. They passed the White House and we got to the Mall, at the far end of the reflecting pool from the stage. 

I have never been in such a huge crowd of people being extra nice to each other. We listened to a lot of speeches and songs. Then Maryann and I got restless and began to walk back to where our bus was parked among the hundreds of busses. We were between government buildings on one of the streets leading off the Mall when we heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. begin his speech. The sound system carried perfectly, so we stood and listened to the whole speech. Then we went to our bus.

There was no film crew on the trip home. The anticipation was over and we sprawled out, tired and relaxed. I kept up with Maryann for a while, then we lost touch. 

While I was in Washington, my then husband and some of his friends hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney. I was sorry to miss that, but I'm glad I was where I was.

Photo: This is one photo out of hundreds from Magnum photographer Leonard Freed's visual testimony of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (Estate of Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos via Brigitte Freed)

 

 

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