Corrine Dixon and her daughter, Janice Howard, recall it being one of those terribly hot, sticky summer days in Washington, D.C.—the type tourists have been complaining about for more than a century.
And they remember all the people, somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000 in total, cramming the National Mall to listen to speeches, to protest and to sing songs.
“I remember walking around the reflection pool and sitting there,” Howard recalls. “To see so many black people in one place at one time, it was truly mindboggling.”
Fifty years ago this month, Dixon and her husband took their children to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The event produced a defining moment in the American Civil Rights Movement in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and helped usher the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Hundreds of thousands are expected to return to Washington this weekend and into next week to commemorate the 1963 march with a series of events.
Dixon, now 91, won’t make it back to the Mall. The lifelong Alexandria resident is in a wheelchair now, but she has been reading up on the commemorations. Howard has family business to attend to over the weekend, but said she hopes to make it to an event.
The day of Aug. 28, 1963 remains vivid in both of their minds.
Dixon remembers loading her entire family on a bus organized by the Alexandria Branch of the NAACP that drove into the District for the day. It was her son's birthday. A second cousin who had spent some time in South Africa came up from North Carolina to attend the march.
“The attitudes of everyone were very nice,” she said. “Everyone was cordial. There were so many people, so many speakers. … Even at the time, I realized the importance.”
Howard, who was 17 at the time and on the cusp of college, said she knew without question it was a momentous day.
“It was really needed,” she said. “I was hoping it would help. … It was something you’ll always remember. Dr. King, he was really popular with us. We were just in awe, engrossed.”
Dixon said the march had an immediate impact on race relations, though maybe not as substantial as some would have you believe.
“People were a little better in their attitudes,” she said. “Not a big difference but a small difference."
Dixon’s family, now five generations deep in Alexandria, has long been active in civil rights in the city. Her father purchased a rooming house at Pendleton and N. Henry streets in 1919 and would board black chauffeurs.
Dixon remembers Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, staying at her family’s house in the 1930s and 40s.
“I remember him not eating pork, eating slow,” she said. “Sometimes he would fast for a day. … He would give lectures at the house and at the Elks House on Henry [Street]. People would meet there and talk to him.”
Participating in civil rights activities was just an everyday thing in the Dixon household. Howard remembers in the mid-1960s the family would travel into the District to pick up, wash and return laundry to protesters at events.
As an adult, Howard became an officer in the NAACP’s Alexandria branch and active in the city’s public school system.
Getting involved was something Howard believes her grandfather passed onto her mother, who then passed it onto her children. Education and a will to stay at the forefront were always key in making change happen, Howard said.
Dixon had it programmed in the minds of her children that
they would be educated, go to college and find success.
The March on Washington only reinforced that familial guidance.
“The march was a strong beginning to making race changes so that African Americans could go to school and do other things and move ahead,” Howard said. “It helped me see how important it was and to stand that day, it was a great motivation. I remember being excited.”