week’s 50th anniversary of The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Ned Mulligan, head chaplain of Holy Innocents' Episcopal School, shared his own memories
of that eventful day with students during Upper School chapel.
Mulligan was 11 years old in 1963 and living in central Pennsylvania when some 250,000 people packed the land between the Washington monument and the Lincoln Memorial that day. He recalled the concern about violence in the days and weeks preceding the event, and he remembered vividly the violent scenes on nightly TV—scenes of the Freedom Riders being attacked and arrested, the bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and law enforcement officers’ use of police dogs, clubs and fire hoses on peaceful demonstrators.
“I remember being shocked that the protesters consistently resisted fighting back in the face of humiliation and persistent brutal violence,” Mulligan told some 500 faculty and upperclassmen gathered for Morning Prayer in Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church. “And I remember wondering why they were nonviolent in the first place, particularly in the face of random and hateful acts of brutality.”
The most renowned talk given during the March on Washington was, of course, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” And, to Mulligan, what Dr. King had to say on that historic day was all anyone needed to know about the Civil Rights Movement, equality, nonviolence, and hope grounded in faith.
“To put the strength and power of hope grounded in faith
in even clearer perspective, just two months before the March on Washington, Medgar Evers, a Movement leader, had been shot in the back in his own driveway in Mississippi. …Jonathan Daniels, a white student in an Episcopal Seminary in Boston, was in Alabama attempting to integrate the Episcopal church and he was shot and killed after he pushed a black girl (Ruby Sales) out of the shooter’s way.
“The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing occurred less than a month after the March—and unprovoked violence continued for years.”
Dr. King taught, however, that darkness cannot drive out darkness, and hate cannot drive out hate, Mulligan said. “Only love can do that. And the light and love he is talking about is God.”
Civil Rights workers’ hopes for the future included a country where racism disappeared, people were truly equal, no one went hungry, and everyone had the same opportunities to thrive and to live free and unencumbered lives, Mulligan emphasized.
“That hope has not been fully realized, but if that hope is supported by faith we will continue to move toward the fulfillment of ‘the dream.’ My hope for all of us in our community of Holy Innocents’ is that we ground our hope in faith. That our faith is strong enough to withstand whatever assaults we have to endure so that our hope is not shaken.
“And finally, my hope for us, grounded in my faith, is that each and every one of us has hopes and dreams that are not simply related to our own lives and personal aspirations, but that we hope and prayerfully dream for the strength to love each other and to use our faith to change our own lives, our communities and the world.”