There was a conjuncture of important days last week. Labor Day and Back to School and the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Labor Day spoke to the jobs part of the Civil Rights March. But educational opportunities spoke to justice. And the 50th anniversary brought out the continuing need for educational justice for all students – preschool to graduate school.
Dr. King began his speech from a carefully prepared text. We see him referring to his notes in the black and white footage from newsreels. What we do not see was the singer Mahalia Jackson who had just electrified the multitudes singing “I’ve Been ‘Buked and I’ve been Scorned” sitting behind Dr. King. She says, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin. Tell ‘em about the dream.”
And Martin looked up from his prepared text. His friend, who had helped with the speech, said to another, “We’re about to go to church.” And that crowd did become a congregation and the steps of the Lincoln Memorial did become a holy place as the man who would not live to see his 40th birthday spoke with the all the power of his heart. This is the part of his address that still can bring adults to tears.
What brought me to tears as our NEA family stood together for that 50th commemoration was how many retired members stood with us in the place they had been 50 years before as young, passionate activists. They returned and generously shared their hearts with our wonderful NEA members and staff. It was our honor to lift up their voices.
It is my honor to offer some of them as guests in this space. Listen and be filled. You’re about to go to church.
Playlist with stories from NEA Retired members. (Click to see all videos)
Letter sent by Harry Klugel, retired teacher who marched 50 years ago, the same week he started teaching at Wheaton High School:
Dennis, Lily, Becky, John
Below is an email I sent to Isabel Lara, Rebecca Logan, Robbie Thompson, Merwyn Scott, Christian Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez, and Todd Crenshaw. NEA is blessed to have these professionals.
When I responded to the request for NEA members who were in the March on Washington in 1963 to write a little about that experience, little did I realize what the last week and a half would be like. Wow !
I never considered my involvement in civil rights and other movements to be in any way heroic—a little risky perhaps, but not dangerous. I believe the commitment that Barbara Blackburn, Gwen Day Fuller, and I and thousands of others made to civil rights did make a difference. And in the cases of Barbara, Gwen and me, we shared that commitment with our students.
You gave me the opportunity to reflect on events from fifty years ago, clear out some of the cobwebs in my mind, and think about the gains we have made and the enormous tasks that remain. For that alone, I thank you.
I will never forget the initial interview at NEA and the way Rebecca elicited responses from me, the inspiring meeting at NEA with young activists, the way Merwyn accommodated my parking after I realized Metro was not operating early on Saturday, the March itself and talking with Todd as we made our way to the Lincoln Memorial, the way Isabel and Robbie kept finding more and more interviews on “Radio Row”, Isabel’s many contacts, Robbie’s snapping multitudes of photos, the good questions from young children at the Portrait Gallery, Robbie’s support and encouragement during the “Google Hangout” with Huffington Post, and Isabel’s and Robbie’s help and support during the events at the Museum of American History.
Who would have thought that, at my age, I would be on a “Google Hangout”?
You are all consummate professionals. You do your jobs with the craft of media experts and you do it well. I watched all of you exhibit the depth of your planning but also your ability to make decisions on the run and to shape events smoothly. You also clearly enjoy your work. And you are the best!
And through all of this you treated me with respect and patience. You were skilled at making me feel comfortable. And I noticed that you treated everyone with that same respect. You are simply wonderful men and women.
And since you are true treasures, I am convinced from this experience that the future of my beloved NEA is in good and capable hands with young professionals such as you.
And guess what? My sciatic nerve never acted up through all the marching, walking, speaking, and interviewing. Maybe I was a little juiced up being around such enthusiastic young people.
Thank you for all you did for me and all you do for NEA.
Barbara Blackburn shows us how close she was to Dr. King on that history making day:
Gwen Day Fuller gets ready for her interview:
Kathryn Scruggs and Patricia Lowther reunite 50 years after marching together: