Locals travel to DC for 50th Anniversary of March on Washington

In 1963, blacks weren't able eat at some restaurants, stay at hotels

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – "In 1963 I left Florida A&M University and five of my friends, we just went up on the greyhound bus," said Sandra Thompson, who attended the original March on Washington.

"The first time I was 15 years old living in Washington, D.C.," said Ethel Bonner, who also attended the original march.

They all took different paths to get to the March on Washington in 1963.

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But on its 50th anniversary, four Jacksonville residents traveled the road back to the nation's capital together.

They took a bus from Jacksonville, and I caught up with them when they returned.

"It was very gratifying to return after 50 years," said Sollie Walker.

"It was almost like I got déjà vu when we walked on the grounds," said Bonner.

Saturday they joined hundreds of thousands at the National Mall to march, and listen to speakers, just as they'd done 50 years before, but some things had definitely changed.

There were no laws preventing them from staying in local hotels and eating at local restaurants because of the color of their skin, like there were last time.

"I went up on the bus, we couldn't stay, so we had to come on back because there was nowhere for us to stay. And we carried lunches so we had to eat there," said Sandra Thompson.

This time they stayed and ate wherever they wished. Just one of the lasting legacies they said, of the March on Washington, not just across the country but in our area.

"I've seen a lot of growth in Jacksonville. We've had a black sheriff and now we have a black mayor, of course most of us thought we'd never see a black president so I think the city has come a long way," said Thompson.

Fifty years later, these four say there is much to be proud of, but still much to be done before Dr. King's dream is fulfilled.

"I felt good I think the progress we've made we've made fantastic gains to what it was at one time but we still have a lot of work to do," said Lloyd Pearson.

Corey Willborn has been in the nation's capital for the last week. But he said Wednesday was the highlight, standing in the national mall where so many stood and fought for freedom 50 years ago.

"It's amazing. There's a lot of energy in here," he said. "I've loved to see the diversity here: white people, black people, Asian, Hispanics, all of us together.

Willborn and his group PECO, People in Communities Organizing, had a two-day in-service there around freedom and jobs, gun violence issues he said are very prevalent in Florida right now, and work tied to King's dream.

"Well, I think that the 'I Have a Dream' speech has still not been realized," Willborn said. "So I think that we are doing the work to try to make his dream and our dream a reality."

While the work is not done, Willborn said he's proud of the progress that has been made, including the country's first black president speaking at the event.

"It's amazing, and I hope that his speech is a speech that is going to fill us with the urgency of now and to help us give over some of the hurdles that, especially in Florida, that were still seeing," Willborn said.

Hearing the president speak while standing in the shadow of history are all moments Willborn says will inspire him to keep fighting for the dream in Jacksonville.

"I'm hoping to take back the energy and excitement so that we can organize and make a better nation for all of us," he said.

Bruce Butler helped write a new chapter of history he learned growing up in Green Cove Springs. He now lives in Virginia and decided to drive to the nation's capital for the march anniversary.

"Growing up in the Clay County school system, I must say it really has been great because we got a good perspective on all aspects of American history," Butler said.

"Events like this, if I'm nearby, I'm going to try to come, I'm going to try to make it because in the end it's worth it, because you can look back and say I was there," Butler said.

He was there to see the president talk about freedom, justice and jobs in the same place where King did 50 years ago.

"I think it's pretty significant because 50 years ago this probably wasn't a reality," Butler said.

In his speech, Obama talked about the other things that were not a reality in 1963, specifically equal rights for African-Americans. The president told the crowd change doesn't come from Washington, it comes to Washington.

It's that spirit of change Butler says will stay with him long after this historic event.

"I believe that each of us can be a change agent, no matter what race you are, no matter what socioeconomic class you come from," Butler said. "We are all our own individual change agents."