West Virginia State University students were reminded Tuesday of the 1963 March on Washington by three individuals who experienced it firsthand.
State's College of Arts and Humanities Fall Convocation at the Culture Center in Charleston featured three panelists who spoke about their experiences at the March and provided their thoughts on how society has changed in response to this historical event.
"When Obama was elected, we all thought we were living in more of a post-racial society," said Bob Thompson, panelist who experienced the March at stage level in 1963. "However, our society has yet to reach that status. The language of nonviolence has become so void."
The Rev. Frances Shearin was an expectant mother when she left her home in Washington, D.C., and joined nearly 250,000 other people on the National Mall in 1963.
"We've come far since 1963 but we've not come far enough," Shearin said. "The elephant is still in his dressing room."
The Rev. Ron English was also a participant in the March and was assistant minister to Martin Luther King Jr. at the Ebenezer Church in Atlanta, where he offered the prayer at King's funeral. He is currently the interim pastor at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Charleston.
"I am pretty dismayed when I see things today. I like to quote Rodney King, 'why can't we just all get along,'<#148> English said. "West Virginia State has a motto of being 'a living laboratory of human relations' and I don't know why we all can't live by this motto ... in all faces of our lives."
English recalls driving through Lynchburg, Va., and seeing a noose hanging in the street.
"This was a message from locals that those driving to D.C. for the March should be wary," English said. "I think it worked the opposite way. It didn't slow us down."
Thompson was a young musician and traveled to the March with his church choir. He said the African American community felt a sense of connection in Washington.
"We had a girls choir at our church and two ladies written a piece called 'Two Songs of Freedom,'<#148> Thompson said. "The choir was headed to the March and they needed some male voices so I was drafted. I had no idea the impact this event would have on the world ... It was life changing. African Americans from all over came together for a single purpose."
Shearin recalls listening to King's speeches on numerous occasions.
"I was afraid to speak in public and listening to Martin Luther King Jr. gave me courage," Shearin said. "I had a music teacher named France Hughes and the fear came to me on the day we were to sing, so I had to be put in the balcony and I had the solo part. After it was over, she came to me and said, 'You will never embarrass me like that again ... when you're called on to sing and to speak, you will do it because those people in the audience are the same people wishing they had that talent.
"That is something the older generation gave us -- the yearning to learn. You don't see much of that anymore in our society. You don't see a hunger for learning. You don't see a thirst for the water of knowledge. We live in a microwave generation where everything has to be 'Ding, Done.'<#148>
Wesley Eary, senior art major at WVSU, said it was his first time attending convocation. He said he attended to get an inside glimpse of the March from people who witnessed it firsthand.
"The responses from all the panelists were heartfelt. They were definitely passionate about the March on Washington and what the March meant for the African American community," Eary said. "I personally felt Rev. Shearin was speaking to me. She possesses a lot of wisdom."
Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Scott Woodard said the topic of the fall convocation was chosen in response to the March on Washington's 50-year anniversary.
"It was an easy decision to make," Woodard said. "I believe it was a huge success and it definitely opened up the eyes of a lot of students that are among a generation of people who just don't know about the March and the significance of it."
Contact writer John Gibb at john.g...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796.