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AARP Bulletin

March on Washington — Then and Now

50 years ago, Americans rallied for civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a dream and six marchers return to the nation's capital to reflect

Rosemary McGill, 67, Rockledge Fla.

Then: Teenage civil rights protester

Now: Multicultural/legacy specialist at Eastern Florida State College, retired city bookkeeper

The multiracial makeup of The March stunned Rosemary McGill. She expected to see only blacks from the South, like her — and was surprised by the kindness and support from whites. From her seat on the grass near the Washington Monument, she saw whites sharing their food with blacks. Even a white girl suggested they sit back-to-back so they'd both be more comfortable.

Her parents' generation lived under Jim Crow laws but her generation was better educated, When she was a teenager, McGill began attending demonstrations.

"We thought, who's a Klansman but a man in a white cloak?" At one protest, she saw a black mother with a baby in her arms knocked to the ground and a Klansman hitting the woman's young son with the butt of a rifle. "I realized I had truly learned to hate my white counterparts."

The March changed that. As she walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, she assumed three whites in her row were agitators. When they started singing "If I Had a Hammer," she recognized folksingers Peter, Paul and Mary, who had come to protest too.

That day, she let go of the "malignant cancer" of hate.

Next page: Rev. C.T. Vivian. »

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