March participants: All races, creeds and colors were represented

Aug. 27, 2013 @ 06:48 PM

Roberta Scott and her husband marched peacefully from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., 50 years ago today in the March on Washington.

“It was really awe-inspiring to see such a diverse crowd,” Scott said. “All races, creeds and colors were represented.”

In August 1963, Scott was living with her husband and three children in D.C., the place where she grew up. She now serves on the Warren County board of education and works at Vance-Granville Community College.

Scott and her husband, along with a quarter-million other people, attended the march to challenge segregation, which banned blacks from using the same bathrooms, restaurants, stores and schools as whites did.

Henderson natives Milliceson Hayes-Rodwell and Elizabeth Vaughan-Taylor also attended the march in 1963.

“Everybody was expecting something to happen,” Vaughan-Taylor said. “It was like magic. It was surreal and nothing violent happened.”

Vaughan-Taylor, a former telephone operator for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company in D.C., went to work on Aug. 28 but she didn’t stay for long.

“That morning, real early, my supervisor came and told me I should get up and go,” she said. “She excused me, and she said it was very important and that I should go. She didn’t need to say anymore, I was out of there.”

Vaughan-Taylor and Hayes-Rodwell, who were both living in D.C., witnessed an integrated crowd that day in late August.

“Everybody was just wonderful to each other,” Hayes-Rodwell said. “We were like one big family. I didn’t have any water and there were white families that offered water to us. It was just a serene day.”

They walked from Constitution Avenue to the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his landmark “I have a dream” speech on the state of race relations in America.

“When Dr. King gave his speech, everybody stood still,” said Vaughan-Taylor.

Hayes-Rodwell was a registered nurse at George Washington Hospital and she happened to be off duty that late-summer Wednesday.

“Although there were a lot of people, when speakers began to speak, they quieted down because everybody seemed to want to hear,” Hayes-Rodwell said. “The most electrifying part was the speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That’s when you could have heard a pin drop. People were mesmerized.”

Scott, too, said the protesters quieted when King stood before the podium.

“It was magnificent, his voice just filled the air,” she said. “You could almost hear a pin drop.”

As a child growing up in segregation, Scott remembers the separate parks for whites and blacks.

“We knew there were places we were not to go and our parents were not going to take us,” Scott said.

One morning, a friend’s babysitter invited her to the park.

“Ms. Nora was his babysitter and she asked my mom if I could go with them to the playground,” she said.

The babysitter took Scott and her friend to the white playground, Scott recalls.

Not long after they arrived, a groundskeeper approached and informed her that the white boy was allowed to play in the park but his black friend was not.

Without much hesitation, the babysitter gathered 5-year-old Scott and her friend, and left the park.

But Scott said the integrated march in 1963 gave her hope that she might see an end to segregation in the future.

Civil rights protesters who sought equality and paved the way for the March on Washington began the fight many years before 1963.

Sandy Royster, a Henderson native who now lives in Aurora, Ill., participated in the 1960 sit-in protests in Woolworth’s in Greensboro.

Royster was a freshman at North Carolina A&T University when four of his classmates started the sit-ins.

“The four of them went to downtown Greensboro one day and attempted to take a seat at Woolworth’s, and of course they told them ‘you can’t sit here,’” Royster said.

But Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan) and David Richmond, all A&T freshmen, didn’t give up their seats.

“They just sat there and occupied four seats for the rest of the day and vowed that they would come back tomorrow.”

And they did return the next day, and for many days after.

“We thought, if we take up all the seats, they either have to serve us or they can’t serve anybody at all,” Royster said.

As more A&T students became involved in the movement, Royster took his turn sitting at the counter.

“I know I cut a few classes to participate,” he said. “It became not just an all black thing but an interracial protest.”

Hayes-Rodwell faced similar race-based challenges while living in the South.

As a pediatric nurse in Atlanta, Hayes-Rodwell said the hostility toward blacks in Atlanta was so strong that she was tempted to drop out of the nursing program.

“You couldn’t go in this door, you couldn’t go in that door, you couldn’t drink from that water fountain,” Hayes-Rodwell said. “I knew what Dr. King was striving for and I knew that this March on Washington would let the president, the Congress and everybody know what we wanted and what needed to happen in our lives.”

“Had it not been for that march, I’m not sure when it would have happened.”

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.