Best Friends Relive March On Washington
When Kathleen Johnson slipped into the reflecting pool while trying to take a photo of the speakers at the March on Washington in 1963, she never imagined the moment would be captured in publications across the nation, including JET magazine.
“I forgot all about it,” Johnson remembers. “I didn’t really think any more of it until after I got back home and the issue came out. I was so embarrassed, I tell you.”
While Johnson’s cheeks turned bright red each time a family member or friend called to tell her she made an appearance in the book, her grandfather helped ease her shame.
“He was saying ‘at least you were there.’ He lived in the South, so it made him proud to see me at the march,” she says. “He took it in a different light.”
After hearing her grandfather’s delight, she was reminded why she, her husband and two friends hopped in the car to drive from New Jersey to Washington, D.C. for the historical event.
“That was a no brainer for us to go. The four of us were going, because we’d seen what had been happening,” she recalls. “It was bad back then, but we felt things could get better.”
As they made the three-hour drive, Johnson says others showed their enthusiasm by honking their horns. Once in the nation’s capital, the lifelong buddies calmly walked together with more than 200,000 attendees to Lincoln Memorial, greeting and high-fiving each other along the way.
“Everybody came with their own stories of why they felt they had to be there,” Johnson says. “It was beautiful.”
“We got to know one another, and we were going for the same cause,” Jean McRae, Johnson’s best friend, adds.
The foursome managed to stumble across some amazing spots too.
“We were close to the podium. I don’t know how that came available,” Jean McRae, Johnson’s best friend says. “I guess it was God’s way. It was a blessing to be there and close to it.”
Powerful speakers began to hype up the audience one after another, and that’s when Johnson lost her balance.
“My dress was soak and wet. But it dried, and it just didn’t matter,” she recollects. “I just went on with the program as it was set.”
And the program was awesome, Johnson says. The crowd watched in awe as celebrities and activists released words of inspiration and imparted notions of hope.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. approached the microphone, “it was quiet, believe it or not.”
“We didn’t see people talking around us,” Johnson reflects. “It was a lot of speakers before him, but when he started it was like ‘wow.’”
“That was the one that was so powerful, because every note we felt,” McRae says.
Johnson and McRae, now both in their 70s, relived the memories again this year at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington by making another trip to D.C.
This year, the women missed their spouses. McRae’s husband died in 2008, and Johnson’s husband, who’s seen helping her out of the pool in the photo, died last month.
Although Johnson says she wishes her husband were there to share the joy, she had a wonderful time.
The women note that citizens today are faced with some of the same challenges of the civil rights movement.
“Look at what’s happening with the voting. Where are the jobs? Where is the immigration? Where is some talk on climate change,” Johnson asks. “We’re the best country in the world, but we can do better.”
Accompanied by their children and grandchildren, the ladies heard speakers not only motivate people to do more, but also promote solutions that most affect communities today.
“I pray that the march will lead us in the right direction,” McRae says. “As long as the message stays alive, it’s better for all of us even if we have to hear it over and over.”
If Johnson’s picture lands in newspapers and magazines across the country this time around, she says, “that wouldn’t bother me, because it was a part of the celebration. I felt good being there.”