Tag Archives: 1963

Marked forever by the 1960s

The 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination brings back many memories. It reminds me how growing up in the 1960s was as traumatic as it was exhilarating.

I was 5 years old in 1960, when JFK was elected. I still remember the ditty that we kids from proud Democratic and Catholic families sang at the time: “Kennedy, Kennedy, he’s our man! Nixon belongs in the garbage can!”

I was 15 when the dramatic decade ended in 1970. Richard Nixon was president. His invasion of Cambodia in April of that year expanded the Vietnam War and led to the shooting of student protesters by National Guardsmen at Kent State in Ohio.

Those years were a kaleidoscope of wild events. From the Cuban missile crisis to Beatlemania to civil rights protests, it was all brought up close and personal through TV and AM radio. 

I remember being scared out of my mind at age 7 in 1962 when I walked down the hall in my house to use the bathroom. I was sure that once I was in there alone that bad guy Castro, who my parents were talking about in alarmed whispers, was going to get me.

On Nov. 22, 1963, I was in my third-grade class at St. Mary’s when the principal came on the PA system to announce that President Kennedy had been killed. It was disturbing to see the teachers so distraught. We were marched to church to pray for the president. Then the buses came to take us home.

What followed were three days in front of the TV watching the national tragedy. I remember how sad everyone was. It seemed like everyone in my family and everything on TV moved in slow motion. The only thing that’s come close since were the days after 9/11, when we were all in a state of shock. 

It was about the time of Kennedy’s assassination that the Beatles invaded the United States, bringing us all a blessed distraction. I screamed along with everyone else, and all the kids on my block started garage bands. I recently listened to my Beatles records again and found, to my delight, that I haven’t forgotten a word.

By age 12, I had to think hard about the civil rights and anti-war protests. My working-class dad used racial slurs. My mom wasn’t a lot better, but she sometimes said, “Elmer!” in a chiding tone to curb his tongue. I knew it was wrong and I remember thinking how dumb it was to hate people you didn’t know and to call them names. I was a fat girl and I knew how hurtful name-calling was. It may seem like a shallow analogy, but it was the beginning of empathy.

Civil rights marches and our napalm attacks in Vietnam spurred my critical thinking. The parish priest grew impatient with my questions and demanded  that I “believe and obey!” Then Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis and Bobby Kennedy was murdered on his way to the presidency. WBBM had just started 24/7 news radio, and I listened on my transistor for days.

What doesn’t crush you makes you stronger. What I gleaned from the 1960s was a profound cynicism tempered by the necessity for questioning authority. I always question authority and urge others to do the same. This one’s for President Kennedy and all the children of the ’60s who grew up too fast.

Marching for King’s dream: The task is not done

Tens of thousands of people marched to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and down the National Mall on Aug. 24, commemorating the 50th anniversary of King’s famous speech and pledging that his dream includes equality for gays, Latinos, the poor and the disabled.

The event was an homage to a generation of activists that endured fire hoses, police abuse and indignities to demand equality for African Americans. But there was a strong theme of unfinished business.

“This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration,” said Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the slain civil rights leader. “Nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration. The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more.”

Eric Holder, the nation’s first black attorney general, said he would not be in office, nor would Barack Obama be president, without those who marched.

“They marched in spite of animosity, oppression and brutality because they believed in the greatness of what this nation could become and despaired of the founding promises not kept,” Holder said.

Holder mentioned gays and Latinos, women and the disabled as those who had yet to fully realize the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. Others in the crowd advocated organized labor, voting rights, revamping immigration policies and access to local post offices.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the only surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, railed against a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively erased a key anti-discrimination provision of the Voting Rights Act. Lewis was a leader of a 1965 march, where police beat and gassed marchers who demanded access to voting booths.

“I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Ala., for the right to vote,” he said. “I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us. You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down. You’ve got to stand up. Speak up, speak out and get in the way.”

Organizers expected about 100,000 people to participate in the event, the precursor to the actual anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, march that drew some 250,000 to the National Mall and ushered in the idea of massive, nonviolent demonstrations.

Marchers began arriving early on Aug. 24, many staking out their spots as the sun rose in a clear sky over the Capitol. By midday, tens of thousands had gathered on the National Mall.

Lynda Chambers, 58, gave up a day’s pay to attend because her retail job does not provide paid vacation. Even as a 7-year-old at the time of the original march, she felt alienated and deprived of her rights. Remembering those feelings, she said, she was compelled to make the trip Saturday.

“I wanted to have some sort of connection to what I have always known, as far as being a black person,” she said.

Longtime activist Al Sharpton, now a MSNBC host, implored young black men to respect women and reminded them that two of the leading figures in the civil rights movement of the 1960s were women.

“Rosa Parks wasn’t no ho,” he said. “And Fannie Lou Hamer wasn’t no bitch.”

Speakers frequently mentioned persistent high unemployment among blacks, which is about twice that of white Americans, and the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. Along the Mall, Martin’s picture was nearly as ubiquitous as King’s.

Nancy Norman, of Seattle, said she was disappointed more people who look like her had not attended. She is white. But the 58-year-old she said she was glad to hear climate change discussed alongside voting rights.

“I’m the kind of person who thinks all of those things are interconnected. Climate change is at the top of my list,” said Norman. “I don’t think it’s one we can set aside for any other discussion.”

Those in attendance arrived in a post-9/11 Washington that was very different from the one civil rights leaders visited in 1963.

Then, people crowded the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and could get close to King to hear his “I Have a Dream” speech. Saturday’s speakers also were on the memorial’s steps, but metal barriers kept people away from the reflecting pool and only a small group of attendees was allowed near the memorial Saturday.

There was a media area and VIP seating. Everyone else had been pushed back and watched and listened to the speeches on big-screen televisions. Police were stationed atop the Lincoln Memorial. After the speeches, marchers walked from there, past the King Memorial, then down the National Mall to the Washington Monument, a distance of just over a mile.

On the day of the anniversary, President Barack Obama will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He will be joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Churches and groups have been asked to ring bells at 3 p.m. Wednesday, marking the exact time King spoke.

Joseph Lowery, who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with King, urged the crowd to continue working for King’s ideals.

“We’ve come to Washington to commemorate,” the 92-year-old civil rights leader said, “and we’re going home to agitate.”

LGBT groups issue letter supporting civil rights march

With events marking the 50th anniversary of the Great March on Washington set for this weekend and through next week, a coalition of LGBT civil rights groups has issued a letter of support.

The National Gay and Lesbian task Force led the effort to collect support from the LGBT community.

The letter reads:

Over the past year, our community has celebrated tremendous wins in the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality and justice.

We have collectively cheered the first ever Senate committee markup of an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Social Security Administration’s modernization of its gender marker policy and U.S. Supreme Court wins on marriage equality in the Windsor and Perry rulings. But we remain frustrated that ENDA is still not the law of the land and we’re angered and deeply disappointed with the Court’s decision to turn back critical parts of the historic Voting Rights Act in Shelby.

We must channel this frustration and disappointment into action to tackle employment discrimination, voter suppression tactics, immigration reform and racial profiling, to name only a few.

This month we have an opportunity to bring the combined energy from our victories to a major gathering that will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom. History was made that day 50 years ago when thousands came to Washington, D.C. to lift up their voices in support of civil rights, employment protection and an end to racial segregation in our nation’s schools. On Aug. 24, we will rededicate ourselves to that dream of equality and justice.

It has been over 40 years since Stonewall and the birth of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. As national, state and local LGBTQ organizations, we know that while there have been many advancements over the last four decades since Stonewall and the five decades since the 1963 March, there is still much more work to be done. We are proud to commemorate the 1963 March and, once again, come together and collectively take action to “Realize the Dream.”

At a time when the nation still does not have clear federal laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, we still need to step up and be visible. We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to find and keep a job in a safe work environment with a living wage regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. We also believe that all members of our community, whether they are seniors, middle-aged or youth, deserve to be safe from violence, harassment, exploitation and racial profiling when they are at home, school, work, or in any other public places. As LGBTQ people, we believe that quality health care should be accessible, affordable and culturally competent. We believe that the 11 million undocumented immigrants, including at least 267,000 undocumented LGBT people living in this country, should have a real pathway to citizenship and people from all backgrounds should be able to stay with their families. We believe these are issues that cut across all lines of gender, race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation, ability and immigration status. It’s time to join forces and demonstrate our collective power.

Take Action

Working together, this rally and mobilization is an opportunity to lift up the voices of LGBT people as part of a broad progressive agenda for social and economic justice. Please join us on Saturday, Aug. 24, at 8 a.m.-3 p.m. in Washington, D.C., at the DC War Memorial at 900 Independence Ave, SW, Washington, DC 20245, as we come together in support of freedom and justice!

The letter is signed “In Solidarity” by: Get Equal, Human Rights Campaign, National Black Justice Coalition, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Pride at Work, AFL-CIO and with endorsements from: Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, Believe Out Loud, Bethel Christian Church, BiNet USA, Bisexual Resource Center, Center for Black Equity, CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers, The Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, Equality Federation, Family Equality Council, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, FORGE, Inc., Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Work, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, GLAAD, GLAD, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), Harvey Milk Foundation, Immigration Equality, Lambda Legal, Leadership Team of NASPA GLBT Knowledge Community, Marriage Equality USA, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, NQAPIA, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, PFLAG National, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), The Trevor Project, Trans Advocacy Network, Trans People of Color Coalition, Transgender Law Center, Unid@s and The National Latin@ LGBT Human rights Organization.

PHOTO — The crowd at the March on Washington in 1963. Photo: Wiki Commons