Reliving the March on Washington

On a steamy summer afternoon in Washington, D.C., Charles Prickett gathered with hundreds of thousands of other civil rights advocates.

The mood was jovial, like a street festival, he recalls, with the crowd listening only occasionally to the speakers and performers.

At least until the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. rose to speak.

"When King started to speak, about the second sentence, 'I have a dream' was on everybody's mind," he said. "It stopped everyone in their tracks."

It felt like history being made, said Prickett, then a teen-aged activist from Illinois, now a Santa Rosa lawyer and a retired official of Santa Rosa Junior College.

Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, remembered now as a key turning point in the civil rights movement, a peaceful gathering of a multi-racial crowd of at least 250,000 — Prickett estimates it at twice that — in the nation's capital to demand change.

The march "was like going to a family reunion," said Prickett, who had abandoned his safe life as a white college student for the dangerous business of helping black residents of Mississippi register to vote. "The thing that impressed me most was that everyone was on the same page, everyone was happy to be there, everyone was there for the same purpose."

It does not appear that many people from Sonoma County attended the march at the time, and few, if any, current residents other than Prickett were present.

But the memory is strong.

The late Gilbert Gray, then the head of the local NAACP chapter, may well have been the only local person to attend the march, according to his daughter, the Rev. Ann Gray Byrd, now the president of the chapter her father helped found.

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