Selected Excerpts from Book
Chapter 10: The Next Steps
Excerpt: The March on Washington
The most significant event on the national civil rights stage that year was the enormous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Many of the Jackson Movement activists participated.
One of these was Pearlena Lewis, who had taken a leave of absence from Tougaloo in the spring of 1963 to focus on her role as president of the North Jackson Youth Council and later as co-chair of the Jackson Movement strategy committee. Although she had intended to return to school the following fall, the loss of Evers and other events of early summer convinced Lewis that activism should take precedence over education for a time. She dropped out of Tougaloo and took John Salter’s place as advisor to the youth council, working mostly on the boycott and voter registration.
In her last serious discussion with Evers—the one in which he foreshadowed his death—Lewis recalled that he expressed interest in making sure that Mississippi’s youth took part in the March on Washington. Lewis was instrumental in ensuring that Evers’s last wish was carried out, and four buses left downtown Jackson on Tuesday morning, August 27, headed for Washington. Lewis, her brother Alphonzo, and Doris Allison all participated, as did many of the Jackson ministers and members of the youth council.
Allison recalled that the white bus drivers gave their passengers trouble all the way to Washington. The driver of her bus slowed down more and more as they came closer to the nation’s capital, until Allison got up her nerve to challenge him. “Damn you!” she shouted. “We don’t care if we don’t get there, but let me tell you something: neither you nor nobody’s going to put out this fire!” Because of the delay, the Mississippi group arrived later than expected, and even the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins expressed concern when they didn’t show up on schedule.
Finally, as the march was getting under way, one of the speakers at the podium called out, “Mississippi, are you out there? Let me hear you!” Allison recalled with glee how the nearly 250 Mississippians, just arriving, responded with a shout that rang out across the mall. The crowd cheered, their relief tangible that members of the nation’s most closed society had, if only briefly, found their way out.
Annie Moody traveled to the march with Ed and Jeannette King, and despite the integrated group in the car, they arrived without incident. Joan Trumpauer was also on hand. In fact, she had been working that summer in the march’s press office, assisting with preparations for the historic event. She was still working when the march itself began and had to be bused to the front, where a special section had been set aside for march workers. Her late arrival was noted by a Scripps-Howard reporter under the small headline “Marched 50 Times, Misses Big One.”
Moody and Trumpauer had similar reactions to Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech that day. Both felt he was talking about pie in the sky. “Certainly at this point, looking back on it and reading the speech and hearing it again, I can see the majesty of it,” Trumpauer later admitted. “But our reaction as young radicals was, ‘He’s in his own dream world.’” Moody’s recollection was even more pointed: “I sat on the grass and listened to the speakers, to discover we had ‘dreamers’ instead of leaders. . . . Martin Luther King went on and on talking about his dream. . . . In Canton we never had time to sleep, much less dream.”
After the march, Trumpauer caught a ride back to Tougaloo with Moody and the Kings, and she and Moody were subjected to some name-calling when they integrated a shower stall at a federal campground in Tennessee.
About the Author
It was while visiting the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia in 1991 that M. J. O’Brien conceived the work that has become We Shall Not Be Moved. As part of its civil rights display, the King Center showed a photograph of the 1963 Jackson, Mississippi Woolworth’s sit-in—a photograph that has become the image used in history books and magazine articles to show what a sit-in was like. O’Brien was captivated by the photograph because at its center was a woman, Joan (Trumpauer)Mulholland, whom he had known for a number of years.
We Shall Not Be Moved is a labor of love. Primarily created in the late 1990s and finally brought to life through the auspices of the University Press of Mississippi, it is a story of triumph and determination that was captured by the now-iconic Fred Blackwell photograph. Although its publication was delayed (as told in Acknowledgements), timing is everything. The book was supposed to be published in 1999, but for a variety of reasons, it is only reaching a broader public today. And that is as it should be. We are on the cusp of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-In (May 28, 1963) and the courageous souls who decided, one-by-one , to sit in at the counter that day are being recognized for their contribution to the overall civil rights struggle.