Editor’s note: ESPN essayist/reporter Chris Connelly was at “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” in Washington, D.C. 50 years ago today. In recognition of this monumental event in American history, he provided Front Row this first-person account, and supplied a photo of his experience. Connelly, who recently concluded ESPN’s five-part “My Wish” series for SportsCenter, narrates a piece about the March on today’s Outside the Lines (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS), which includes comments by Sharon Robinson (daughter of Jackie Robinson), Hank Aaron, Robert Griffin III, Bo Jackson and Geno Smith.
Fifty years ago, my father took this picture, with the same basic twin-lens reflex contraption we’d brought to the Polo Grounds two weeks earlier, when I sat next to the foul pole and attempted to photograph right fielder Joe Christopher as he posed for me, part of a New York Mets promotion called Camera Day, which, believe me, I enjoyed a whole lot more than Joe did.
That’s six-year-old me on the right, alongside my mother and grandmother, on Aug. 28, 1963, at the March on Washington … what Martin Luther King would call, in his first words from the podium that afternoon, “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”
Back then, lots of other six-year-olds were also following the Civil Rights movement and its leaders with awe and admiration. (My best friend at the time, William Doyle, would grow up to become a Civil Rights era historian.)
Footage from demonstrations in the South and commentary about the pernicious behavior of whites generated in us both disgust and an unwarranted sense of moral superiority. At the time on my school bus, there was an exceptionally pale child who was causing a lot of trouble.
“It figures,” I told my mother. “He’s a white kid.”
Thanks to one of the crayons in my Crayolas box, I had been under the impression that my color was Flesh. My parents had explained to me that I was misinformed just a few months before this photo was taken.
Our family came down from New York City into Washington, D.C. the day before the March; my sister remembers going through the pay phones in the hotel lobby to see if there were any dimes left in the coin returns.
On the morning of the March, we woke up to good news on television: There was a network correspondent declaring ” … and Henry Throne has reached the surface!”
Throne was a Pennsylvania coal miner who’d been trapped underground for 14 days; efforts to reach him and two other miners had seized the nation’s attention even as the March drew near.
I think we headed off straight to the Washington Monument, which is where we would have picked up that sign (though the nametag my mother’s wearing suggests that we might have gone somewhere else first) and marched to the Lincoln Memorial.
I regret that I don’t remember any of the speeches, including Dr. King’s, but I do recall being amazed by the sheer size of the crowd that gathered. And I remember, vaguely, where we took this photograph, which could just as easily have been of my father and sister.
You can tell from our clothes that it was a warm day. You can tell from my right hand that I enjoyed having that sign to hold, even if I didn’t have a stick so I could raise it high.
And you can tell from the smiles on our faces that we were really proud to be there.