The University of Mary Washington observed the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington on Wednesday, August 28. The march and rally, which took place on August 28, 1963, brought together more than 200,000 people on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and became known as a watershed moment for the civil rights movement.
At 3 p.m., the bell tolled on the Fredericksburg campus, joining the nationwide “Let Freedom Ring” celebration. Throughout the day, students, faculty and staff recited excerpts from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” in a video that appeared on television screens across the campus. The anniversary march and presidential speech in Washington, D.C., was broadcast at the Underground on the Fredericksburg campus.
“The march was a momentous occasion during the civil rights movement, because it was attended by so many followed by the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said Leah Cox, special assistant for diversity and inclusion. “This moment was further enhanced by Dr. King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Fifty years later we are still working to achieve social justice for many groups with the issues that are now confronting our nation. It’s a renewal of our commitment to achieving equality.”
The UMW commemoration also honored the work of civil rights leader and former UMW Professor James L. Farmer Jr., who founded the Congress of Racial Equality. One of the “Big Four,” Farmer worked closely with King on nonviolent protests to eliminate racial inequality. On the day King delivered his famous speech, Farmer was in jail for “disturbing the peace” in Plaquemine, La. He sent his own speech to the March on Washington, which was read by a CORE aide: “We will not stop,” Farmer wrote, “until the dogs stop biting us in the South and the rats stop biting us in the North.”
Farmer taught the history of the civil rights movement to Mary Washington students for about a dozen years before his retirement in 1998. That year, President Bill Clinton awarded Farmer the Presidential Medal of Freedom.