In late August, 1963, the March on Washington led hundreds of thousands of Americans to the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King gave his famous, “I have a Dream” address, calling for racial equality.
Lawrence Cumberbatch walked from New York City to Washington DC in order to participate.
The 16-year-old made the trek with Brooklyn’s chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, known as CORE.
His parents thought two weeks on the open road was too dangerous for a teenager, and, as Lawrence told his son, Simeon, at StoryCorps, they tried to dissuade him.
Music Info: "How I got Over (Live)" by Mahalia Jackson from the album "The Essential Mahalia Jackson"
This is the song Jackson sang directly after King finished his "I Have a Dream" speech.
Click here for the transcript.
So they did the usual, "Go and see Uncle Lloyd. He wants to talk to you." [Laughs] They were so sure He'll fix this.
And I discussed it with him, and he says, "You know, you've thought this out, this makes sense." So, he told my parents. He says, "I think the boy is okay, so he'll be safe." [Laughs]
And that was it. They followed his advice.
We basically walked everyday from sunup to sunset.
Archival Audio: (Singing from people participating in the March on Washington)
Our diet was eating out of the Coke machines in the gas stations--cheese crackers with peanut butter for the whole 13 days, that's all we ate.
We walked on U.S. 1 because the Turnpike Authorities wouldn't allow us. And the state of Delaware-- they would not let us stop for any purpose. And we had to walk, and they literally put a patrol car behind us and one in front, and they marched us 30 miles until we were out of their jurisdiction.
When we got to Washington, we marched into the demonstration on the mall.
Archival Audio: (Cheering)
And were led to the platform. And we were right behind King. It was overwhelming.
Archival Audio: I have the pleasure to present to you Dr. Martin Luther King J-R. (Cheering) I am happy to join with you today…
People said, "Well, what did you think about the speech?" I says, "Nobody who was on that podium was thinking about the speech." It was just so mind-blowing to look at this sea of people. You'll never see this again.
Simeon Cumberbatch (SC): This was definitely a defining moment.
LC: Yeah, I'd never forget this stuff.
SC: I remember when I saw clips of Martin Luther King's speech at Washington, and my mother said, "Your father's right behind him." It's a proud history, and you … you're a hero of mine.
LC: Thank you Sim. I am very proud of that.