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23 September 2023 MORE THAN A DREAM: THE RADICAL MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR JOBS AND FREEDOM by Yohuru Williams and Michael G. Long, Macmillan/Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, August 2023, 272p., ISBN: 978-0-374-39174-4


“I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation. Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete”

– John Lewis, August 28, 1963 (epigraph)


“We have hung our heads and cried,

Cried for the ones who had to die, 

Died for you and died for me,

Died for the cost of equality.

But we'll never turn back

Until we have all been free

No, we'll never turn back,

No, we'll never turn back”

– Bertha Gober (1963)


“[Bayard] Rustin had just announced dramatic changes to the march.

Circling the Capitol? Gone.

Demonstrating at the White House? Gone.

Marching down Pennsylvania Avenue? Gone.

…Whatever the case might have been, Rustin disagreed with the sense that the march had lost its radical edge,

‘What you have to understand is that the march will succeed if it gets 100,000 people–or 150,000 or 200,000 or more–to show up in Washington,’ he argued. ‘It will be the biggest rally in history. It will show the Black community united as never before–united also with whites from labor and the churches, from all over the country.’

For Rustin, the power of the march rested in its numbers and coalitions. If marchers didn’t protest at the White House, that was okay; location didn’t necessarily show power. And if sit-ins were nixed, that was also okay. Militant civil disobedience, even if carried out by several thousand, would demonstrate power, but it would never match the enormous power of a massive march and rally.

Turning out 250,000 people, from all walks of life, for a socialist-ispired march for jobs and freedom to be broadcast across the globe…now that was powerful and radical!

Nevertheless, to bolster his case, Rustin presented his new plan–a march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, followed by a rally at the Memorial–as an innovative, and revolutionary, way to lobby political leaders.”


Sixty years ago this month, just days after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I walked to school to begin third grade. And early on that morning, that first day back to school, Miss Kalish and Mrs. Mulvey, my first- and second-grade teachers, approached me in the hallway. I’ll never forget their excitement as they recalled participating in the March on Washington, and hearing Dr. King’s speech. It was a thrilling first lesson in how I might grow up to become someone who gets actively involved in making the world a better place. I’ve never forgotten that interaction. It changed my life.


MORE THAN A DREAM details the history of that 1963 March on Washington, from the idea stage, through the planning stages, and on through the historic events of August 28, 1963 (the eighth anniversary of Emmitt Till’s lynching), when the march and rally took place, culminating in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s a fascinating examination of how this history-changing event was organized, and an exhilarating blow-by-blow account of how the day went down.


It includes a look at the influential A-level celebrities of the era who came and spoke out onstage at the event or to the world through the press. Rita Moreno talked about the police brutality that had marked Civil Rights demonstrations in the South. Marlon Brando brought that point home by showing up with the kind of cattle prod that sadistic Southern cops had used to torture peaceful protestors. And the onstage musical performances included potent words from the greatest topical folk singer of the twentieth century:


“As Dylan began singing ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game,’ every single person behind him was moving, talking, not paying attention. But those who listened to the lyrics heard a radical claim: that a white-controlled political and economic system, rather than individual poor white folks, were ultimately responsible for the racial violence that brutalized and killed Black people. Yes, Byron De La Beckwith was the one who had shot [Medgar] Evers, but the shooter himself was the tool of a murderous system that taught poor white people to hate all Black people. Dylan’s song was lost on many, but it offered some of the most controversial, and militant, content of the entire entertainment program.”


There are scores of powerful, thought-provoking, teachable aspects of the speeches that were delivered that day and are detailed within this book. 


Sadly, sixty years later, there are still millions of Americans for whom Dr. King’s dream has still not come to fruition. But I have high hopes that exposure to MORE THAN A DREAM will serve as a thrilling first lesson for today’s middle grade and middle school students, that a good number of these readers will be inspired, as I was, to one day take to the streets themselves and lend their voices to today’s major contemporary issues such as justice, equality, peace, fair pay, reproductive rights, and mitigation of climate change. 


I sure hope that this gifted author/historian duo continues collaborating, and continues providing top-notch history lessons to the younger generation.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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