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March event gives TSD freelancer shot at history

tillmanmarch-1-600I boarded a flight early Friday morning (Aug. 23) headed to Washington, D.C. for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington. On the plane was Congressman Steve Cohen, the Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles, who knew Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. well, and Tonja Sesley Baymon, the programs director of the Memphis Urban League.

Realizing that the March on Washington anniversary included the journey there, I went to work capturing images.

We landed at Reagan National Airport about 11 a.m. (ET) and headed to baggage claim. I turned around and there was John Conyers, the Congressman from Michigan. I introduced myself and asked if I could get a photograph of him, along with an interview.

He said, "Yes." Now I was two for two.

I jumped in my brother Joseph's taxi and we went to Howard University to meet with Jefferi Lee, the head of the television station at the university. We talked about a future showing of the documentary, "Million Woman March: the March, the Impact, the Progress from 1997-2013.) The documentary, which I am making, will include footage and shots of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

tillmanmarch-2-600I left Howard University and went to scout the Lincoln Memorial. Crews were setting up last minute works and performing sound checks. I was thinking and seeing how I was going to get in and get the shots that I needed to get back to Memphis for the weekly news.

That night before bed, I checked my equipment, film, SD cards, batteries, etc. About 5 Saturday morning, I headed into D.C. My brother dropped me off at the gate on Constitution Ave. All media had to report to the sign-in desk, where I picked up my yellow media badge, which gave me access to the media risers. That would be my jumping off point for even better position, once I saw an opening.

As the sun came up people were streaming in by the thousands. I checked my equipment one more time, especially the cell phone so I could communicate with the TSD's executive editor, Karanja A. Ajanaku, back in Memphis. I had begun to send him cell phone shots of where I was positioned, giving him a view of what was going on.

tillmanmarch-3-600"Keep'm coming, George," he said.

The event started and I was right on top of it all. The who's who was coming in and I was awash in the click, click, click of a sea of cameras. I began to shoot and move, keeping my eyes on the primary subjects so that they would not get out of sight before I got to them.

I knew my biggest challenge – getting in position to shoot the march down Independence Ave. – still lay ahead. Camera-carrying men and women from myriad parts of the world jockeyed to the front line. I found an opening and snapped away like a photographer possessed. For over an hour, the lines of marchers kept rolling out from the starting point.

Later, after all the steps had been taken on a historic day marking an even more historic day, and as I stood while awaiting a taxi, I had a chance encounter with one of the day's most moving speakers, Merlie Evers-Williams, whose late husband, Medgar, is a civil rights martyr. On the morning of June 12, 1963, Evers was murdered in his driveway in Jackson, Miss., and 2 ½ months before the 1963 March on Washington.

During her speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Evers-Williams had said, "There are efforts to turn back the clock of freedom and I ask you today, will you allow that to happen? ... Take the words 'stand your ground' in a positive sense. Stand your ground in terms of fighting for justice and equality."

As our paths crossed, Evers-Williams simply affirmed that she had made her way to the nation's Capitol to let the world know that the voices of Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many others are still being heard.

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