After fifty years, an honest look back at the March on Washington

It’s said that hindsight is often 20/20, but it also tends to create generalizations as we sift through the events of the past. Martin Luther King Jr.’s now-legendary “I Have a Dream” speech wasn’t immediately lionized like it is now, and for many, the jobs part of the demonstration was the central cause.

In the words of Vernon Watkins, who attended the march back in 1963:

"I didn’t go for the reason most people might think," Watkins pointed out. "I wasn’t there to see King."

He was 24 then; young and angry and black. He lived in a segregated Detroit neighborhood. He had a wife and three children, and worked at a printing plant. Getting a good job had tested him. Prospects for his future were uncertain.

"I had one thing on my mind in those days, and that was jobs," he said. "With the way we were treated because of the color of our skin, how was I going to keep providing for my family?"

But once Watkins began to hear King speak, he was amazed.

"He just leaned into the moment," Watkins said. "Looked out at the crowd the way Baptist preachers do and gave them what they needed: that idea of the dream. You might have to wait, but if you fight for dignity, everything is going to be OK."

Read more on Watkins’ experiences, and his views on whether the goals of prosperity and equality espoused in 1963 have been met in the fifty years since.

Photos: Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times, Associated Press

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