University commemorates March on Washington
Harrison Institute presentation celebrates civil rights history
Soulful music flooded the lecture hall at the Harrison Institute Special Collections library Wednesday as more than 100 people gathered to honor the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington.
Deborah McDowell, director of the University’s Carter G. Woodson Institute, opened the presentation with a speech discussing the first call for a March on Washington in 1941, originally led by civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph. Just before the scheduled date of the march, however, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order to purge racial discrimination in government employment, and the march was cancelled, making Dr. King’s march in 1963 the first large-scale march of its kind.
Much like the ‘63 march itself, the event incorporated music — The John D’earth Quintet performed a live rendition of “Alabama” by John Coltrane at intermission.
“Jazz music is black music,” D’earth said before launching into the first verse with his trumpet. “It was created by people who were at first brought here against their will … and is revered around the world today.” The performance received thundering applause.
English Prof. Susan Fraiman read Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in reverse.
“I do this to challenge the way these intentions [set forth by Dr. King] have been watered down,” Fraiman said. “Mainstream U.S. culture encourages positivity, romance … anger and protest are seen as whining, even unpatriotic.”
Fraiman praised King’s challenge and refusal to accept the status quo and dissatisfaction with racial segregation.
To end the session, Batten undergraduate student Eden Zekarias urged the audience to look beyond the University and consider the perpetuation of racial privilege outside the confines of Charlottesville — or even outside the United States.
“If we do not seek to perish as a global people, we need to realize what happens to [our international peers] also happens to us,” she said. “We are looking at modern-day segregation where people are placed into pockets of poverty and pockets of privilege.”