50 Years After the March for Jobs and Freedom
Students and members of the community came together in the Robert E. Kauffman Theater Oct. 24th for “Equality, Economics and Education: 50 Years After the March for Jobs and Freedom,” a panel discussion that looked at the 50 years since the historic March on Washington. Hosted by AACC and the Anne Arundel County chapter of the NAACP, the event featured a group of panelists and keynote speaker James Stewart, who led the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. Stewart, of Atlanta, also attended the March on Washington.
AACC history professor Lester Brooks, Ph.D., kicked off the event by reflecting back on “Ten Key Moments in the Modern Civil Rights Movement.”
Keynote Speaker James Stewart
Stewart began his keynote address by saying “History is made by real people, and I am one of those.” He went on to talk about the day of the march in May 1963 when as a 15-year-old he led a group out of the Birmingham Church with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Dr. King never raised his voice; he didn’t need to,” Stewart said. “He told us we needed to be committed to nonviolence.”
He spoke of the terrifying and deplorable conditions at the Birmingham jail, where Stewart and the other participants were sent during the march. “When we got to the Birmingham jail that is when the fear set in. We were now alone with the Birmingham police. No more music and no more Dr. King.”
He also shared memories of his friend, Carol Robinson, one of the four young girls killed in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and for whom he was a pallbearer. “It was a devastating time. Carol was a sweet girl and was excited about the things she was involved in, and you could see it,” Stewart recalled, also recalling how she loved to wear her Girl Scout uniform. Following the bombing, Stewart said “we lived in a kind of black PTSD.” Since there were no counselors, they were left to internalize all that was happening.
He spoke of how education is the key to greater equality and encouraged members of the audience to get involved and know their history, especially African Americans, asking that they also teach their children and grandchildren. “Get involved. These problems are yours, and you have the solutions for them.”
With Steve Gunn, editor for Capital-Gazette Communications, as moderator, the second half of the event featured a discussion with a variety of panelists commenting on conditions today and the impact the civil rights movement has had locally.
When AACC nursing student Sommer Davis asked if she believed opportunities for African Americans are now more equal to those of Caucasians, she acknowledged there are still barriers. “I would like to think it is,” she said. “There is always that thought that being black is a negative connotation.” Christopher Pineda, a Hispanic student, echoed her thoughts from his perspective. “They think we are immigrants, not citizens.”
Carlene Cassidy, AACC associate professor, Business Management and Entrepreneurship, spoke to the importance of education and businesses providing mentors to helping minority students advance in life.
“How can we leverage value in our differences? We have to get kids to stay in school and give our young people the opportunity to thrive. It is the village mentality,” she said.
Other panelists included Joe Johnson, retired Annapolis police chief, who raised the “big impact” zero tolerance has had on young minorities’ ability to ultimately become employed and become contributing citizens. Charlestine Fairley, Ph.D., dean, Sojourner-Douglass College, also talked about education being the gateway to success for African American and minority students, which allows for not just greater pay but also respect.