It’s been 60 years since MLK’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. This Norfolk man still remembers its lessons.
- Written by Barry Graham
- Category: Local News
- Published: 25 August 2023
Before retired Old Dominion University professor Maurice Berube was an educator, he was part of the Catholic Workers Union in 1960s New York City.
In the 1960s, the group was one of many around the country that wanted to ensure civil rights for Black Americans.
So in 1963, in the wake of violent attacks on civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama, and as momentum built for a mass protest on the nation’s capital, Berube and his peers were convinced to head to Washington D.C. for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
“A friend of mine in the group … persuaded me to go and we had to hook up with the NAACP in Harlem and go on a bus,” said Berube, who is now 90 years old.
“So we go to the march and it was very hot and there were singers: Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Bob Dylan. It was an event.”
It was Aug. 28, 1963, 60 years ago when roughly 250,000 people like Berube gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the performances and speeches.
The most well-known given that day was by famous civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr.
“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” King told the crowd, silenced by his presence.
This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free.”
King’s speech had quick impact. The next year, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and then the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Each one was meant to outlaw segregation and ensure Black peoples’ Constitutional rights, including the right to vote.
Not everyone heralded the speech as a success or welcome.
While taking the bus back to New York City, someone shot at Berube’s bus of activists in Montgomery County, Maryland.
The driver of the bus ordered everyone off and Berube and a new friend who was Black, went to a nearby tavern to wait it out.
“This big burly guy … walked down and poured beer on my head,” Berube said.
“I used to be a boxer and a football player, and I used to train three or four times a week in a boxing gym- I could have taken that guy- but I adhered to the march by King and the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement – no violence.”
Berube would go on to a career in education, writing books and being named an eminent scholar at ODU.
He carries what he learned from King, and the Civil Rights Movement with him today.
“There’s still different levels of racism,” he said.
“Where it was very upfront racism in the ’60s, now it’s very much hidden.
“I think somebody wrote one time that race is a wound that will never heal. It never seems to heal very much, but we’ve made progress. We’ve had a Black President and … we have Black judges.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in that respect, but in other respects, we have lingering racism.”