Floyd McKissick, a black attorney who organized CORE in North Carolina, was ultimately chosen to speak on behalf of CORE. (He later became CORE's national director.)
I don't remember what he said because of the day's last speaker.
John Lewis was the SNCC speaker and he displayed the hot anger in his demeanor that the young activists were feeling. But I remember less about what he said and more about what he was not permitted to say -- that we were going to march through Georgia like Sherman marched through Georgia. The organizers objected to the prepared text and he edited his remarks. I don't remember much about what he actually said because of the last speaker.
UAW AFL-CIO labor leader Walter Reuther and other white speakers placed an emphasis on employment and housing.
Whitney Young, the national director of the National Urban League, had the most intelligent speech -- stating the critical problem and the critical things that must be done. But the setting was not a college seminar.
We had come to the march feeling angry. Feeling hopeless about the United States of America.
We did not need a lesson plan. We needed a song. We needed church.
The last speaker
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was the last speaker.
Patricia and I heard gospel singer Mahalia Jackson cry out before he spoke, "Detroit! Give them the Dream Speech!"
And he sang "I Have A Dream..."
I can testify as a witness with my wife about the oceanic wave of love and hope that was felt by 200,000 people after Martin sang his song. That love and hope replaced the anger and hopelessness.
After the speech, Patricia and I were talking about how we were going to get to New York to go to CORE's headquarters. A white couple with that rapture on their face said, "You people need a ride to New York? We will take you."
And they took us straight to the national office of CORE on 38 Park Row.
That night, CORE's national director Farmer finally appeared in the CORE office. Still scared to death, he described how local black supporters had arranged for him to travel hidden in a casket with a funeral director so he could make it to the airport and flee to New York. The White KKK in Louisiana had been out in force to assassinate him. (The white KKK was not the regular KKK, but a specific terrorist organization active in Louisiana, southwest Mississippi, and Canton and Meridian, Mississippi).
So, even in the immediate aftermath of the March on Washington, a stark and oppressive reality continued to confront us. But we didn't feel alone.
Over the next five decades, we worked with several different civil rights organizations -- from CORE to SNCC to the NAACP -- but the names of the groups didn't matter. What mattered was that we were all committed to opening up the courts, the ballot box, and the school systems with nonviolent social action.
Early on after the march our focus was on voting rights. I went to Mississippi in 1964 on behalf of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to monitor civil rights activities and the violence against civil rights activists for reports to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. While there, I worked with civil rights figures such as Robert (Bob) Moses and activists James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, who were later slain.
Patricia spent years as the CORE field secretary for North Florida and she was successful in registering disenfranchised blacks to vote at notable levels in the South.
We eventually moved to Miami, where I spent the majority of my career with the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board and later as head of the county's Office of Black Affairs, working with parents, teachers, students and clergymen to confront issues of poverty, discrimination, education and immigration. I literally walked the streets during race riots to try to instill calm to the community.
Patricia was a "professional volunteer," championing civil rights causes and being a go-to person called upon by the black community. Education was her passion and she was above all else a mother to our three daughters. She led Title One and NAACP youth groups, and was determined to memorialize our history for youth through speaking and writing.
Ironically, she was the planning coordinator for the annual NAACP convention in Miami Beach in 1980, but was quick to participate in the rallies to boycott the city of Miami when the mayor snubbed Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison in 1990. Just as in 1963, Patricia refused to accept hypocrisy.
I will always consider myself a "freedom lawyer" and community activist because of my deeply held belief that you need to organize the community for freedom and social justice. I have spent the past few months in Tallahassee, Orlando, Sanford, Marianna, and other parts of Florida in support of civil rights and youth groups as they have tried to mobilize and navigate the aftermath of the Dozier boys' school killings and the Trayvon Martin killing and Zimmerman verdict. I have also been working hard with local sheriffs to find new ways to combat the "schoolhouse to jailhouse" syndrome of our black youth.
What today's young people must never forget is that it is possible to confront hate, racism and discrimination and transform our anger and hopelessness into hope and impact through our actions. That is what Patricia did, and that is what we should all aspire to do.