1963 March on Washington transformed my town

This is the story of one direct outcome of the 1963 March on Washington, to which I went as a member of the Huntington Township Committee on Human Relations in Suffolk County, Long Island.

Just going to the August 28, 1963, march was thrilling. Our group took the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan, and then boarded one of the trains going to Washington. My clearest memories of the trip itself are, first, the loudspeaker voice reverberating through Penn Station: “All aboard for the March on Washington,” and, second, seeing the mostly Black railroad workers all along the tracks waving their caps and cheering as the train went by. I still get goose bumps just thinking of that.

The whole day was fantastic, of course, and listening to and watching King and the others, and being among over 200,000 Black and white people who were as one on that day, was surely one of the most inspiring experiences I have ever had.

Shortly after the Washington march, our Huntington Human Relations Committee decided to have our own March on Huntington Town Hall to bring a petition asking for the passage of an open housing ordinance for the township. At the time this was a huge issue, as even middle class black people had a very hard time finding housing because of racial discrimination.

Our local march later that year began with a rally at the Huntington railroad station. Our main speaker was Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the Washington march and a friend of the co-chair of our committee.

Only about 300 people were at the rally, and many of us were disappointed. But Rustin, who was a dynamic speaker in the way that King was (in the way that Black preachers are), assured us that we should not be upset. He said that the important thing is to “go with what you got, and build from there.” I can hear his voice now. 

After the rally, we started walking up Huntington’s Main Street. It was about two miles to the Town Hall. As we walked along, other people – white as well as black – started to join us. By the time we got to the Town Hall to present the petition, there was a crowd estimated by the police at 2,000 people. Man, was Rustin right!

The upshot was that within a year, the Huntington Town Council did pass an open housing ordinance.

It is not likely this all would have happened had it not been for the inspiration of King and the Washington march.

And, yes, I will be at the 2013 March.