IEET Fellow Wendell Wallach published a reminiscence about the March on Washington in the Washington Post.
“The days was filled with the singing of civil rights songs, and one gospel singer’s voice continues to ring in my ears these fifty years later. The singing already started in the wee hours of the morning on the Connecticut train chartered for the trip. My minister had asked if I wanted to go to the March.
I was seventeen, white, and already active in the movement. On the train I connected up with a slightly older friend Sherrie Skews, and she and I wandered from car to car and sang freedom songs with different folks all the way from Hartford to Union Station. Peter, Paul, and Mary were singing, “If I had a hammer” on a small stage at the Lincoln Monument as we arrived there. Soon everyone would depart heading up to the Lincoln Memorial, group after group singing a different spiritual.
You could wander from lane to lane across Constitutional Avenue and sing an entirely different song. We’d sing a few verses of “Oh freedom” with one collection of marchers and than move over to another group who caught up in a verse of, “Woke up this boring with my mind stayed on freedom” or “We shall overcome.” There was a spirit of infectious commitment in the air, but that was nothing compared to what we felt coming upon a black women belting out line after line that would be punctuated with a one word chorus from those close by. ” We are Marchin’ for -”, FreeeEdom.” “Gotta’ have our –” “FreeeEdom” “Can’t live without our – ” FreeeEdom, Freedom, Freedom.” Sherrie and I joined in that chorus until our throats were sore. By the time we reached the Lincoln Monument the speeches had already begun.
We tried to snake among the crowd and get closer to the podium, but folks were already jammed in. It was hot, someone oppressive, and in retrospect totally surprising that with people pushing forward, I never heard an angry word spoken. A women nearby fainted, and I decided to help carry her out of the crowd to the infirmary tent. Sherry followed. After delivering the woman to the nurses, I was exhausted and lay down on the lawn. There was a loud speaker nearby and I could hear the voice of Dr. King, as I semi-dozed. On the way back to Union Station to catch the train for the return to Connecticut, Sherry and I stopped at the National Archives to take a moment with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
It would be a few days later before I fully listened to Dr. King’s memorable speech. However, the voice that captured that day for me was a solitary baritoned gospel singer chanting, “Gotta have our –” as we her choir responded with “FreeeEdom.””