Caroline French, a grassroots political activist and antiques dealer from the Seacoast, was one of them. “I was 21 years old, a college student at UNH,” she said. “When you’re in college, you really care about social issues like equality. At the time, I didn’t realize how significant the event was, but my friends were going, and I went too.” French was one of a group of students from the University of New Hampshire who took a bus down to Washington for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
“Nobody who was there knew how important it was, at the time,” she said. “You don’t go to an event thinking ‘this is going to change the history of the world.’ It’s only in retrospect, decades later, that you can see how it affected our country.”
“The ideals of equality were already there, before the March,” French recalled. “I remember seeing efforts to desegregate on television. It was a national issue and we paid attention.”
“Racism is an original flaw in this country, and it has been a problem since Day One,” she said. “These days, there’s a myth, now that we’ve had a black President, it’s all ‘hunky-dory’. But that’s not the truth at all. The legacy of racism, the economic legacy, is still a real concern.”
The trip that started out as a “college adventure” changed the direction of her life. “Because I was there, I do things and got involved in things that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” French said. “I support the Southern Poverty Law Center. I have gone back to Washington for other marches, women’s marches, labor, health care. I pay attention, and I get involved in groups that do things – activist groups that don’t just sit on the sidelines. Women’s equality, marriage equality, racial equality, gun safety.”
French is just one of a quarter-million people who were at that March. Imagine the impact, if everyone who attended had their lives changed the same way Caroline did.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education and other forms of advocacy, we work toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.” Read more about the Center here.
Read the “I HAVE A DREAM…” speech by Martin Luther King here.
See the Official Program of events for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom here.