CLEVELAND — In 1963, Essie Williams, of Cleveland, lived in Alabama and was forced to endure racism, hate and segregation as a part of her daily life.
“We had to step off the sidewalk for a white person. We couldn’t drink at the water fountains. If you wanted to go downtown to get a sandwich, you had to go to the back door of the restaurant,” Williams said. “It was humiliating, devastating.”
Williams was one of more than 1,000 people to march on the mall in Cleveland Wednesday evening, 50 years after the legendary March on Washington.
The march and program that followed at the Cleveland Public Auditorium was, in part, to honor those who fought so hard for civil rights.
“I was so inspired by Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks, so this is my dress code. I just wanted to represent the ladies who are not here to let them know we are still here for them,” said Kimberly Hinton, who was wearing a vintage 60s black dress and handbag with white gloves and pearls.
Some marched to finish what was started so many decades ago.
“There are still many groups in this country that face discrimination in society and legally, and that includes the gay community,” Rabbi Stephen Weiss of B’nai Jeshurun Congregation.
“The dream is not done. Though maybe not saliently, but slowly. It’s a dream deferred, but its coming to pass,” said Pastor R.A. Vernon from The World Church.
Johnny Benn, 71, said he was just 21 when he was bussed to Washington from Cleveland to take part in the march.
“On the way down, we couldn’t stop anywhere across the Mason-Dixon Line and get fed at a restaurant,” Benn said.
So he said they brought sandwiches.
Benn said the change has been like baking a cake: a process.
“Look at what we gave in the White House. The country is meant to change. The demographics are changing, so it’s changing,” Benn said.