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Continued: Minnesotans remember March on Washington

On the organization and instructions for the march:

Johnson: We were given strict instructions about how to handle ourselves. We had to sign a contract that said we would remain nonviolent — we could not retaliate if we were attacked.

And I remember that there were some people in Minneapolis who did not go because they said they couldn’t commit to that. Some of those who wouldn’t sign the contract were people who helped us raise money to go to Washington.

Little: I never expected it, and for a while I thought about saying no. … At that time, there were a lot of violent, horrible things happening in the South to civil-rights workers, and I was worried about that happening in Washington. We had to raise the money — $5,000 to charter a plane …the local religious community really helped us with that.

We had some hard rules to follow — in addition to signing the nonviolent pledge, there were other requirements. The national NAACP wanted each delegation to have so many women, so many unemployed, etc. — representatives of the issues we were fighting for. These were not options. We were required to do this. Remember, it was a march for jobs and freedom.

Johnson: We were taken directly from the airport to the basement of a church where members of our congressional delegation (Don Fraser, Hubert Humphrey) were there to greet us and give us encouragement.

We went to the march and had to leave town before sundown that day, for our own safety. And that’s exactly what we did.

[Note: The 58 who flew to Washington were selected by local civil-rights and religious groups to be part of the official delegation. Other Minnesotans traveled separately to attend the march.]

 

On why the march mattered:

Johnson: Would the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the mid-1960s have happened without the March on Washington? I don’t think so.

There were such feelings of joy and hope at the march. And through the ’60s we felt that we really could change the laws and make a difference for our people …

Little: I was overwhelmed by what happened that day — it took me completely by storm. … I was almost in a trance. When we got back on the plane I told the group that I was in another world and hoped that everyone felt the same. Then there was a big roar …

The strong feeling was so much within me. We couldn’t let it go, we had to take these feelings and carry on. So we organized the Minnesota March on Washington committee. And one of the first things we did was organize a lot of young people in Minneapolis to go down south to Mississippi to help with voter registration.

At that time, it was felt that the needs were greater in the South, so we sent people there while still working on jobs, education and housing here.

 

On 1963 vs. 2013:

Johnson: When President Obama was elected in 2008, it seemed that he represented one of the little children Martin talked about and was judged by ‘the content of his character.’ But I realized quickly that his goal had by no means been achieved. The way this president has been treated? Disrespected? I was there when a member of Congress shouted “liar” at his speech. I believe the president’s election freed those who believe in white supremacy to be the worst that they can be.

  • related content

  • Photo gallery: Photo gallery: Minnesotans remember March

    Saturday August 24, 2013

    Josie Johnson and Matt Little reflect on their hopes in 1963 and the realities of 2013.

  • March on Washington 1963: Josie Johnson, center, and Zetta Fedder, right, with an unidentified woman.

  • July 30, 2013: Matt Little, 92, reflected on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington at his home in Roseville, Minn. He's a retired post office superintendent and past president of the local NAACP.

  • Josie Johnson, 82, is a former Minneapolis Urban League director and retired associate vice president and Regent at University of Minnesota.

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