I came to Washington fresh from Greenwood, where I had been arrested once again in June along with Bob Moses, Lawrence Guyot, and others for trying to help local people exercise their Constitutional right to vote. Medgar Evers was murdered in cold blood in Jackson, and Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer and others were brutally beaten in Winona for a minor civil rights demonstration in June of 1963.
SNCC would dispatch me and Cong. Eleanor Holmes Norton from Greenwood to Winona to get our workers out of jail. The sight of watching Mrs. Hamer and the group exiting from the jail with fresh physical wounds from the beating and violence heaped upon them by the jailers still registers in my mind as one of the most horrific, God-awful moments of my life.
Later that month, I would be summoned back to my hometown of Newnan, Georgia, to answer a Draft Notice to report for duty in the Vietnam War. They let me go when they were informed that I had several civil rights cases pending in court for voter registration work.
So when I arrived in Washington for the March in August 1963, I was coming to hear our SNCC leader Cong. John Lewis plead the case for Congressional support for SNCC voter registration workers in the Black Belt Counties of the South. His words were so powerful he was forced to change his speech, but a copy of his redacted speech signed by the Congressman will be on display at the African American Civil War Memorial Museum in Washington when the exhibits reopen in 2024. Dr. King’s, I Have a Dream speech was the icing on the cake.
Marching, singing, and celebrating with a crowd of more than 250,000 people at the March on Washington was the emotional and community support I and other SNCC members needed to go back to the South, “knowing we would be free someday.” As a result of the March and other Civil Rights protests, Congress would soon pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which set America on a new path to freedom and justice that continues today.