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1963 March on Washington

Witnesses to history, NEA-Retired members look back

By Rebeca Logan

Henry Klugel was nervous about asking his principal for a day off. The new teacher wanted to attend the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where thousands were expected to call for justice in a nation torn by racism and segregation.

To Klugel’s surprise, the principal at Wheaton High School in Montgomery County, Md., agreed. “He knew it would be a historic day, and I was one of his history teachers,” Klugel says today.

Following speeches from clergy, union, and civil rights leaders, and performances by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Mahalia Jackson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his rousing “I Have a Dream” speech.

“I think the crowd felt that this was a history changing kind of event—that they were involved in something that was going to be in the history books.”

NEA-Retired member Gwen Day Fuller and
Henry Klugel answer questions at Washington,
D.C.’s National Portrait Gallery during events
commemorating the 50th anniversary of the
March for Jobs and Freedom.

When Segregation was the Norm

That historic morning, Gwen Day Fuller and her family boarded a bus in Alexandria, Va., and headed to Washington, D.C. Fuller, a retired Massachusetts elementary school teacher, was raised in the South. She suffered the violence of racism firsthand when a group of White men threw firecrackers at her family, sending young Fuller to the hospital.

“It was just such an honor to think that I might have an opportunity to be at arm’s length from [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] and able to hear him speak about what was going on in the country,” Fuller says.

Approaching the Lincoln Memorial that long-ago day, Fuller says she was struck by the crowd’s size and festive mood. “Even though there were thousands of people—and people from all over the country and the world—there was such a feeling of calmness, peace, and love…. People just seemed so filled with hope and I think that’s how we were feeling too,” she recalls.

Pushing a Wheelchair

David Paull, a retired teacher now living in Washington state steered his pastor through the crowd. Rev. Wayne R. Woods was dying of cancer, and Paull wanted to get him near the Lincoln Memorial.

“I pushed from the church all the way down 17th Street to the Mall and then up to the north side of the Memorial in a shady spot just in front of where the Vietnam Memorial Wall now stands. In spite of the extreme heat and his condition, [Woods] was exuberant beyond all words.”

The Struggle Continues

Today, these educators remain involved in the struggle for social justice—teaching, marching, and volunteering in their communities. They agree there is still much to be done.

Klugel, who continues to teach part time, is disturbed by the recent Supreme Court ruling against the Voting Rights Act of 1965.“It makes no sense to me, to have maybe one of the most important pieces of legislation ever written in our history be dismantled,” he says.

On August 29, 2013, Klugel rose early to participate in the National Action to Realize the Dream Act. Fifty years later, he was determined to add his voice to the struggle for equality for all.

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