With the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington approaching on Wednesday, two high-profile San Francisco ministers today recounted their experiences from the civil rights march and rally in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the event in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, and Revs. Amos Brown and Cecil Williams were among those in attendance.
Brown, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and pastor at Third Baptist Church, called the march the “zenith” of the civil rights movement.
Brown was a student at Morehouse College in Georgia and was in the only class King taught in his life. He was arrested along with King at a student sit-in in Atlanta in the years prior to the march, and drove a busload of students up from Atlanta for the big event.
Williams, who has spent more than 45 years as the founder and minister of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, recalled coming from Kansas City for the march and being inspired by what he saw.
“It was just uplifting,” he said. “It was really the first time I had felt that strongly about what I had to do as an African-American.”
Williams said he was just to the left of the Lincoln Memorial as King and other speakers addressed the crowd.
“As far as I could see, it was just a sea of humanity,” he said.
He said participating in the march and listening to the speeches “was probably one of the most important events in my life to spur me on and give me direction.”
Williams would come to San Francisco shortly afterward to found Glide and has advocated for civil rights for black people, as well as the LGBT community and others in the city.
He said San Francisco “was supposedly a liberal community, but was not so liberal when I came here.”
Brown has been back in Washington since last week and will take part in the large 50th anniversary event on Wednesday, a march and rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where President Barack Obama is expected to speak.
Brown said his visit back to Washington is “a mixed bag” because “it’s exciting to see many people here, but for us to have to deal with many of the same things 50 years later, it says this nation is still a racist nation.”
Brown cited high unemployment rates and the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black youth, as issues that have angered the black community.
“Some progress has been made, but we have miles to go,” he said.
Locally, San Francisco on Wednesday evening will honor Clarence Benjamin Jones, a former speechwriter, attorney and adviser to King.
Jones is a visiting professor at University of San Francisco and will be given a lifetime achievement award by the city’s Human Rights Commission in the Board of Supervisor chambers at City Hall at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Palo Alto is also organizing a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the march in its City Hall Plaza, which in 2007 was renamed King Plaza in honor of the famous reverend and his widow Coretta Scott King.
The event will feature a 5 p.m. showing of the documentary “Soundtrack for a Revolution,” followed by music and oratory performances at 7 p.m. at the plaza at 250 Hamilton Ave.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News