From the 1992 Barclay Middle School Civil Rights Project
On April 24, 1992, retired Baltimore Judge Robert B. Watts told the Barclay Civil Rights Scholars about his involvement in the March on Washington.
I went to the march, and I went with some of my white friends from CORE [Congress of Racial Equality.] We went in a group. And the one thing that impressed me—and it was a momentous occasion—but I tell you, I’ll never forget… I saw a white man, he must have been 80-years-old. I think he had a cane. He could hardly walk. And his head was sticking straight ahead, like this, and he walked. And I was walking, and I kept looking at him. I said, ‘why is he here? This man is 80-years-old. He ought to be at home. I’m a young man.’ And his whole theory was—defiant.
And he’d put his head up like that, didn’t pay any attention, like ‘I’m going to make it. I don’t care what happens, I’m going to get up to that speech, where Martin Luther [was speaking.]’
And he was walking, and I said ‘Oh, what an impressive thing, wish I could take a picture of this man, 80-years-old and white standing up for my rights.’
That’s why I’ve never forgotten…but that’s the most impressive thing. Except, of course, Martin Luther King gave a tremendous speech, that I’m sure you’ve heard over and over again. That was impressive and the mention of blacks and whites marching together for what we thought was the right thing to do, and it was one of the most impressive things to ever happen to me.
In 1963, Charles Johnson, a black commander, was part of the Military Police function in Washington D.C. He was commuting from Baltimore to D.C., on August 28, 1963. He told the Scholars about his memories of the March on Washington on July 29, 1992.
Since I arrived late I was not given an assignment. So therefore I could go out and look at the activities for that day. And therefore when many of the speakers went on the platform or spoke in front of the monument, I was there to hear it.
And if you were there you would have been caught up in the atmosphere of what was being said, long before King even had begun [to speak.] And even though we knew when King was speaking, as usual, we envisioned it being one of those major speeches that he always liked to give that would arouse the crowd, that would have all the messages that you hoped his speeches would have.
We felt that this would be a special speech. And again we were not disappointed.
I think everyone who heard Mahalia Jackson sing and who heard King spoke that day would have been impressed by what they saw and by what they heard.
And even though I was not a part of a group, my sisters were there, at least two of my sisters, and I was trying to find them to see what they wanted to say about this event. And of course, I never did see them. But it was just a good experience.
These interviews appear courtesy of Jo Ann Robinson and the University of Baltimore Langsdale Library. In April 1992, Jo Ann Robinson, then a history professor at Morgan State University, directed an oral history project at Barclay Elementary Middle School. A group of 15 middle school students were selected to participate. They were named the Barclay Civil Rights Scholars. The Scholars interviewed Dr. Charles Johnson, Sidney Hollander, Grenville Whitman, Congressman Parren Mitchell (deceased), Delegate Hattie Harrison (deceased) Judge Robert B. Watts (deceased) Dr. Samuel Banks (deceased) and Dr. Richard McKinney (deceased.)
Full transcripts of the interviews can be found online and at the University of Baltimore Langsdale Library Series 1, Box 5, "Barclay Civil Rights Project."
We reached Jo Ann Robinson by phone on Tuesday and she recalled some of her memories working with the Civil Rights Scholars over the course of several months.
Robinson says she used to run into a couple of the Scholars around the city, but it has been a long time she has heard any news about their whereabouts.
"When I was looking at the names [yesterday] I was wondering 'where are these kids now?'"
Special thanks to Aiden Faust, Digital Collections Librarian at the University of Baltimore Langsdale Library Special Collections, for providing us with the audio files.