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NYHTC at the 1963 March on Washington

NYHTC - February 17, 2010 Share/Save/Bookmark

The 1963 March on Washington is one of the most celebrated moments in the Civil Rights Movement. Organized by a coalition of civil rights organizations and progressive unions, the march brought over 200,000 people from around the country to support the passage of civil rights legislation. The march is perhaps best known for Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, and is widely credited with contributing to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As part of the union's long-standing commitment to civil rights, the NY Hotel Trades Council organized a delegation of 360 members and officials to represent the union in the march. Union officials attending included Local 6 President Charles Martin, Secretary-Treasurer James Marley, Recording Secretary Armando Betances, and then-Business Agent and later Hotel Trades Council President Vito Pitta. Local 6 had sent delegations to previous civil rights marches in Washington, D.C., most notably the May 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom.

The union's participation in the march was reported in the September 1963 issue of the Hotel and Club Voice magazine:

 

The Freedom March: Local 6 Was There

There was never before anything like it in Washington.

If you were there you saw 210,000 Americans marching in peace through their capital city, singing, clapping, listening. You saw they were there for a purpose, that they were determined to carry a message through. The signs and the songs said the same thing. Freedom. Freedom Now. And you saw that prominent among them were our own Local 6 people, saying and singing the same thing and living out the constitution of their union.

Five Pennsylvania Railroad cars carried our union members into Union Station the morning of August 28. On that warm but beautiful day in Washington, it was evident from the start that those who expected violence were to be bitterly disappointed. Never had so many people come to petition their government with so much restraint and dignity.

For Local 6 members it was a high point in a long list of civil rights efforts. In every department, members gave from their own pockets that a few from their number should go. Seats on the train were limited, but contributions rolled in long after it was known that not all who contributed could participate. With this knowledge with them, 360 weary but proud Local 6 members brightened up, hoisted high the union signs and began the historic march along Constitution Avenue.

Blessed with cool seats under shade trees, our Local 6 marchers listened to rousing folk songs by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and the great Odetta, and classic spirituals by Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson. The speeches followed, and with them the soaring words of Martin Luther King. He spoke of a dream, "a dream deeply rooted in the American dream." To those who could remember back to a proud night in Gertrude Lane Auditorium in June of 1962, the words were familiar. In response to the presentation of our second Civil Rights Award to him, Martin Luther King revealed to us his hope:

"What we are trying to accomplish is an American dream, as yet unfulfilled, a dream expressed in these sublime words: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.' . . . The dignity and merit of the human personality is the great dream of America. Now more than ever before America is challenged to realize this dream."

The August 28 Freedom March was undoubtedly one of the most successful volunteer efforts ever undertaken by the union. Local 6 was one of the city's first unions to begin preparations. Immediately upon the approval of the Civil Rights committee, chaired by General Organizer Betty Benz, collection sheets were drawn up and officers and delegates began the drive for funds. Within the space of a few weeks, almost $6,000 had been collected, and our participation in the march was a certainty. Reservations were secured for five Pennsylvania Railroad cars on a special train, one of 30 leaving from New York City. 360 Local 6 members boarded the train at 7:25 on the morning of the 28th.

Leading the local's delegation were President Charles J. Martin, Secretary Treasurer James Marley, Recording Secretary Armando Betances; Vice Presidents Randolph Hagan, Domenick Menick, Vangel Kamaras, Betty Smith, Al Szymanski; Business Agents Louis Saulnier, Nettie Wiley, Joseph Bracero, Vito Pitta, Lubos Pavlista, Alberta Porter, Ralph Mandrew, David Hooko and Arcadio Arcos. Education Director Betty Ziff, who worked full time for weeks on the march, was on hand with other members of the Local 6 staff.

The enthusiasm and generosity of the members in the shops, who gave to further the success of the march, combined with the great demand for and limitation of transportation space resulted in a surplus of approximately $1,750. On the approval of the Local's Executive Board, $250 of this will go to the James Merideth Education Fund and $500 to Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The remaining $1,000 will be used in future efforts to further the cause of civil rights.

Tributes to the overwhelming success of the march, and Local 6's participation in it, came freely as members looked back on the day during the long ride home. Dick Weber, Local 6 member from the Golden Gate, said he was happy that the union not only encouraged members to go, but played a big part in organizing the trip and in participating. Charles Alford, from the New Yorker, said, "This is a tremendous experience in my life. For years I have been concerned with the civil rights issue in my community and in the union. Now we've all done something about it."

Charlotte Judah, of the Manhattan Neighborhood Service Council, called the march "a great show of brotherhood." Erie Cooper, also of the MNSC, predicted that, "Whatever some politicians may say, Congress won't be able to ignore this tremendous demonstration when it takes up President Kennedy's civil rights bill."

Related Issues: Civil Rights