By Chris Murphree
At the Ayres Multicultural Center, students, professors and community members alike gathered into the common room on Aug. 29. The office of Multicultural Affairs and the School of Theology screened Moyer and Company’s John Lewis Marches On, as a celebration and remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
At least two hundred thousand Americans attended the march on Washington to rally for the civil and economic rights of African Americans. Often overshadowed in popular history by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic I Have a Dream speech, nine other civil rights leaders spoke to the exuberant crowd.
Among those was a young John Lewis, who as the president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee delivered a radical and rousing speech that questioned why the federal government was so slow to protect and defend the rights of its African American citizens. The film provided unique footage of the march and focused on Moyer’s and Lewis’ memories of the period. At one point the duo journeyed to the Lincoln Memorial, where a group of young students gathered around Lewis as he recalled the events of that day. As the last living speaker from the march, Lewis represented the passing of history from one generation to another.
Recollections of the Civil Rights movement did not end with Lewis in Washington. At the film’s end, members of Sewanee and surrounding communities shared their accounts of the turbulent days leading up to the March on Washington.
Memories of the 1963 lawsuit, in which four African American families and four white families appealed to allow the integration of Sewanee Elementary School under the precedent of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, echoed through the room. One woman recalled her mother organizing meetings in her living room to arrange their own protest. The discussion then turned to continuing interaction of race relations today, as we struggle not only in the Sewanee community but America as a whole.
As we wade through uncharted territories within our nation, the stories of the American Civil Right Movement and the March on Washington continue to flow to a new generation. As we continue an ever growing pursuit of harmony, the narrative of John Lewis and the people who lead the civil rights movement continues to guide our minds.