05 Sep 2013
- Written by Kelly Martin/Special to The New Tri-State Defender
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The line of marchers was not that long – about 50-plus. Down Riverside Drive it went, sounding off with lyrics from familiar standards:
"Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,"
"Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,"
"This Little Light of Mine,"
And, of course, "We Shall Overcome."
The Memphis Children's March was a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Presented by Gilliam Communications, owners of 1340-WLOK, it was a prelude to the radio station's 39th Annual Stone Soul Picnic in Tom Lee Park.
Children of all ages were represented during an event that highlighted the importance of youthful input – then and now – in the journey toward change.
"It is time for young people to take control and fight the battle," said Shelby County Commissioner Henri E. Brooks, "because it was young people who fought the battle during the civil rights movement."
Brooks was among the seasoned marchers, deeply expressing how she wanted the children to understand what it meant to march 50 years ago.
"This is about jobs, fairness and civil rights," she said.
Joan Nelson and Fanny Benson were two special attendees for the day's event. They were teenagers when they attended the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his 'I Have a Dream' speech.
"I am happy to say that the march was not in vain," said Benson. "Love one another. Treat everybody how you want to be treated regardless of race, color, or creed."
Nelson was 14 years old when she got involved in the civil rights movement and arrested for the first time.
"The march in 1963 was for you! Today's march is for you! Our history is for you!" she proclaimed.
Other words were shared by representatives from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Memphis Ambassadors Program, Man of the House Mentoring Program, the Memphis Shelby County Education Association, and the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1733 – the union that represented the striking sanitation workers that Dr. King was in Memphis to support when he was assassinated in 1968 .
Darryl Harrington, poised and speaking with passion, delivered a stirring excerpt from Dr. King's now iconic '63 speech.
Tony Nichelson, founder of the 110 Institute, which annually hosts the Man of the House mentoring event, coordinated the march. He acknowledged that the numbers for the Memphis Children's March were lower than expected, but not lacking in energy and commitment.
"We'll turn this first effort into a crusade aimed at slowing the genocide that's underway in urban centers across America," he said.
"We look back over the past 50 years, and ask ourselves whether we have done our best to continue the mission and the legacy of generations past. The answer is probably a resounding 'No!'