Notes on collections and events at the RIHS
To celebrate the life and legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we are looking back at the famous MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR FREEDOM AND JOBS, August 28, 1963. Rhode Islanders packed buses leaving the State the day before the scheduled march in Washington, D.C. and drove all night to attend the largest rally for civil rights our country has seen. The RIHS Library has books and papers on Rhode Island’s part in the struggle for civil rights. Library holdings include television film, reports of the Rhode Island Holiday Commissions, manuscripts, papers of the LWV and a remarkable letter about the 1963 MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR JOBS AND FREEDOM. Portions of the letter are transcribed below.
Alexander “Sam” Aldrich was sent by New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller as an official representative to present a state proclamation to A. Philip Robinson, a principle organizer of the March. The Governor proclaimed March, August 28 “Justice and Equality Day” in New York State. Aldrich wrote to his parents a few days after returning home from Washington, D.C. :
“There were 5 moments during those hours which I shall never forget as long as I live, “ wrote Alexander Aldrich, describing the role of A. Philip Randolph, the speech of Walter Reuther, the resounding cheer that swelled to a roar of the crowd invoked by Roy Wilkins, the songs by Mahalia Jackson , and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“ It just wasn’t possible to be an observer while [King] spoke. And I have heard this sermon before! But when he reached the part in which he repeated “I have a dream!” over and over again, and describing the elements of his dream of real equality, you wept.”
“It was a Baptist convention – jazz festival – country fair – political rally – fourth of July celebration – Oscar awards ceremony – visit to the Lincoln Memorial for two hundred and ten thousand ordinary people.”
“I feel sorry for everyone who wasn’t there.”
–Alexander Aldrich, Sept. 3, 1963, Chatham Center, NY.
(From Mss938 The Winthrop and Harriet Aldrich Papers, Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society Library.)
ADDITIONAL SOURCES in the library on Civil Rights and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy are in the Society’s FILM COLLECTIONS— WJAR-TV film; MANUSCRIPT COLLECTIONS— Mss 156 The Women’s’ Liberation Union of Rhode Island Records, 1970-1983; Mss 21 The League of Women Voters Records, 1893 – 1977; and in the PRINT COLLECTIONS — see Rhode Island State Reports: “Living the Dream,” The Martin Luther King, Jr. State Holiday Commission Report, 1987.
RECOMMENDED READING: An Assessment of Life in Rhode Island as an African American in the Era from 1918 to 1993 by Andrew Bell (NY: Vantage, 1997)
~ Katherine Chansky, Special Collections Reference Librarian