The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom brought the civil rights movement to the forefront, but six decades later, two participants now living in Ohio said the fight for equality is far from over.
“It was a life-giving moment,” Otis Moss Jr. said.
Moss joined tens of thousands of people from across the country to share in the moment that gave momentum to the movement for civil rights.
“All of these forces and voices in harmony for one special moment in history demanding the same thing,” he said.
Moss is the pastor emeritus for Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland. He was in his late 20s when he said he was “called” to attend the demonstration in Washington 60 years ago.
“To lift up the moral and democratic principles upon which our nation was supposedly founded,” he said.
The day’s program included music and a diverse lineup of speakers that ended with Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
"You can watch it on YouTube all you want, but being there in that moment was something you never forget,” Jerry Austin said.
Austin was 18-years-old when he traveled with his parents and sister from the Bronx, New York, to witness the historic event.
“I remember standing there at the bottom of the monument and listening to, someone was announcing, ‘There are now 90,000 people here, there are now 100,000 people here,” Austin said.
The total grew to more than 250,000 people filing the space in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall to support a bill ending racial discrimination.
“I don’t think anybody knew it was going to be that historic,” Austin said. “We knew it was going to be big.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964, legislation President John F. Kennedy’s administration introduced into Congress before his November 1963 assassination.
The bill was a victory, but Austin said the fight isn’t over.
“We thought that we were successful," he said. "We were going to change the country. We found out that the country’s gotta be changed all the time.”
Standing up for what he believes is right runs in Austin’s blood. His parents were active in union politics in New York, and Austin turned from activism to action when he entered a career as a longtime political consultant.
The first campaign he worked was for the man who would become the first African-American congressman from Ohio.
“In 1968, my first experience was being right here at Karamu House handing out literature for then-candidate Lou Stokes,” he said.
Austin later helped candidates for both state and national offices, and even served as Jesse Jackson’s national campaign manager during his presidential run in 1988.
He said he now hopes the next generation will continue moving the country forward.
“There are kids turning 18 right now that need to vote,” Austin said. “It’s their country, their world, and it’s up to them.”
Moss agreed and said the polls are the place to enact change.
“I am wounded when I see all of the voter disenfranchisement and the cruel and mean laws that are being passed, and the resurgence of racism and hatred,” Moss said.
Vowing to honor and show gratitude daily to those who fought for freedom.
“For this cause we were born and for this purpose we came into he world,” he said. “And we must be disciples and apostles of the best of our nation and history. We cannot turn back.”