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This Is the Day: The March on Washington

Freed book-1-600
this is the day-cover-500

"There have been many marches since, and several before, but no other march to the nation's capital captured our collective imagination like the March on Washington of August 28, 1963... The momentous pilgrimage showcased an inspired... Martin Luther King, Jr., the celebrated leader of black America who hadn't yet delivered an entire speech that the nation had listened to...

"Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson... encouraged her friend to depart from paper... "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin," she bellowed from the background. And respond to her call King did... King cast aside his prepared speech... to weave the dream metaphor into the tapestry of the nation's self-image, and in the process he grafted black folk to the heart of American democracy."

– Excerpted from the Essay by Michael Eric Dyson (pgs. 1-5)

"Leonard Freed's photographs of the March on Washington depict both the march and the marchers... For the participants, this was both a serious and a happy occasion, a chance to exercise their rights and to petition their government for a redress of ancient grievances. The marchers are at once sober, somber, and gleeful—proud to be present as they sense history is being made."

– Excerpted from the Foreword by Julian Bond (page ix)

When you think of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, what automatically comes to mind for most people is Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. And while Dr. King's remarks certainly deserve every bit of recognition they have garnered over the years, it is also important to remember that hundreds of thousands of ordinary American citizens committed to civil rights had descended on the National Mall to attend the event.

I was only a child at the time, but I can still readily recall the palpable concern in the air about the folks from the neighborhood boarding buses for DC. After all, the press had been speculating about the prospect of rioting and arrests if the crowd were unruly, so those participating were doing so with the prospect of considerable personal risk in mind.

Fortunately, the glorious gathering went of without a hitch and came to represent a watershed moment in U.S. History. Now, a half-century later, we are lucky to have an opus like "This Is the Day" available to remind us of that high point in the nation's non-violence movement.

The book is essentially a photographic essay chronicled by Leonard Freed (1929-2006) before, during and after at the March. His beautiful black & white images are rarely of the leaders (only one of Dr. King), but rather are evocative portraits of the movement's hopeful foot soldiers who'd trudged from all over the country to petition the government for equal rights.

A few of the photos captured are wide-angle panoramas which give a sense of the mammoth scale of the demonstration. But most are intimate snapshots, which afford you an opportunity to read each of the earnest subject's faces.

Besides the timeless stills, the tome is devoted to the reflections of civil rights leader Julian Bond, who was at the March, as well as to a very colorful essay recounting the day by Michael Eric Dyson, written with a profusion of the popular professor's trademark rhetorical flourishes. It also features a postscript by Paul Farber analyzing the gifted Freed's approach to his craft.

Overall, this timely tome is a perfect way to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of one of the most important landmarks in African-American history.

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