Fifty-six years ago Wednesday, a minister from Georgia gave a speech in front of a quarter million people. The year was 1963 and the backdrop for the speech was the Lincoln Monument – exactly a century after slaves were freed in the United States.
The speech, given by Martin Luther King Jr., called for an end to racism and prejudice in all forms, and King detailed his hopes for the future.
Fast forward to Wednesday, when the March on Washington and Dr. King were commemorated in downtown State College at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza.
The event began with remarks from AnneMarie Mingo, an assistant professor of African American studies. Mingo detailed how King’s favorite singer Mahalia Jackson told King at the podium to, “Tell them about the dream.”
Further, it was explained how the State College planning committee that helped create the Plaza on Fraser Street was inspired by the imagery in King’s speech. The planning committee incorporated this imagery into the landscape of the plaza.
“You’ll notice [the monument] goes up and down as if the hills and the valleys and the mountains,” Mingo said.
Following music by Gabriel Green — a Penn State graduate student in African and Diaspora Studies — Amy Freeman recited original poetry reflecting the march and the fight for equal rights.
Freeman, the director of the Penn State Millennium Scholars Program, made several allusions to both past events and issues that still plague African Americans today.
“We have been conditioned to accept the silence. The slights. The occasional slaughter. The gated opportunities,” Freeman said. “Where everybody does not mean all. And we the people does not necessary include us.”
Charles Dumas, a professor emeritus of theatre at Penn State, took part in the March on Washington in 1963.
He discussed his experience as a participant in the march and the fears that many had. However, Dumas explained that soon after arriving, many of the marchers soon replaced all feelings of fear with feelings of joy and pure elation.
Dumas detailed how he sat near the Reflecting Pool to stick his feet in the water. Because it was before the dawn of Jumbotrons, or color TVs for that matter, it remained difficult for spectators to see the podium. Luckily, though, Dumas said everybody could still hear the speakers, especially King. Dumas recounted King’s low, powerful tone and how it managed to bring every participant to their feet.
After the speakers talked, Oyindamola Adetola, the treasurer of Black Caucus, discussed the importance of activism in today’s society.
“Today, we tend to be more relaxed. ‘We got so far, we are kind of fine here — let’s just stop,’” Adetola (junior – immunology and biobehavorial health) said. “It doesn’t stop there. We got to keep going. Activism is just as important as it was then as it is now — even more so.”
Other students in attendance, like Damian Archer, shared similar views on how imperative activism is today.
“I think activism is really important,” Archer (junior-earth science and policy) said. “Some aspects [of activism] could be more important.”
Harsh Pandey echoed the sentiment of fellow students.
“I think activism in any point in time is very important,” Pandey (senior-computative mathematics and economics) said. “It is activism that changes.”