Wednesday’s anniversary brings back lots of memories and mixed emotions for many people who attended the March on Washington 50 years ago. One of them is a local woman who says she felt it was her duty to attend.
Sara J. Harper, 87, watched television as America's first African-American president, Barack Obama, remembered the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" and the March on Washington.
"I know we have made progress, significant progress, but I think there's a lot of work yet to be done," Harper said.
She attended the original march in 1963, even though friends and relatives discouraged her from going.
"So much had happened before the march, so many mean, ugly nasty things, especially in the south," Harper said.
The retired judge, then a lawyer, said the tone of the march was serious and determined, with a fear that demonstrators were risking their lives.
"The vote was a primary motivation for all of us, to make sure that every person that wanted to vote had a right to vote," she recalled.
Harper said then and now, she is moved by Dr. King's motivational and now-famous speech.
"I didn't have any hero worship, idol worship for him. I just admired his work and wanted to do anything and everything I could do to help," she reflected.
Harper returned to Cleveland, headed the local NAACP, became a Cleveland Municipal Court judge, sat on the Court of Appeals and now runs a children's library which bears her name. It’s located at East 43rd St. and Quincy Avenue in the Outhwaite housing complex, where she lived as a child.
This past weekend, she returned to Washington to join hundreds of thousands of Americans who re-created the march 50 years later.
"It was a great reminder of the past," she said.
Harper said the two marches were very different; the recent one included lots of young people.
“They seemed very relaxed and happy, where the other march was very serious and committed. Nowhere around me were people laughing and joking," she said. "I thought it was great. To me, it meant progress."
Harper hopes by looking back five decades, people will be more focused on the future.
"If we don't take a deep interest in what's going on as far as voting is concerned, registering to vote or candidates, we may be stepping backwards a little bit," she said.