Fate prevented Dorothy Jackson from getting to Washington to hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech in 1963, and it worked against her again this year when she wanted to go back to the capital and celebrate the 50th anniversary.
But given a chance to join other Akron voices — among them LeBron James and Don Plusquellic — in remembering a portion of King’s words, she delivered a pitch-perfect conclusion as if she had been there herself.
A video appears on Ohio.com today, and includes in order of appearance: Ophelia Averitt, Henry Johnson, Amber Subba, Pree Pree, Cheryl Chlysta, Dionne Bell, James, Mrs. Gingraw, Ed Gilbert, Pastor Walter Moss, Butch Reynolds, Mayor Plusquellic, the Rev. Diana L. Swope, Carla Davis, Brianna Grubbs, Shamari Fields, Jayvontae Smith, Somer Chrisant, Kaitlyn Turchak, Angela Turbak, Jeff Turachak, Rishi Reddi, Shashank Reddy and Jackson.
The video is part of the Beacon Journal’s coverage this week as people in the community reflect on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and King’s speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Photojournalist Michael Chritton, who assembled the video, was impressed by how Jackson was able to copy King’s words and cadence on the first try, as if she had been there.
She wasn’t at the march, but she wanted to be.
“My sister and my niece and my daughter, we had been to New York and we were trying to get to Washington,” she told a reporter Saturday. “They were just coming in with the new highways and we kept getting lost and when we finally got into Washington, we kept going up and somebody would tell us one way and we would go around those circles and we kept ending up on Pennsylvania Avenue. We never actually got to the march.”
It was a hot August day, and their Buick had no air conditioning. They were cooler with the windows down, but then they couldn’t hear King on the radio.
Her sister “would close them and we would open and close and we were so excited and sad that we couldn’t get there. Every time we would stop and ask for directions, they would send us the other way.”
She did have the memory of meeting King in 1962 during a University of Akron appearance.
“I told him I was a maid and he just inspired me so much on what you could do,” she said. “I just had a high school diploma and he said it didn’t matter, ‘Whatever you do, if you sweep the floor, you sweep it like Beethoven.’ I often tell kids about that when I go to schools.”
She is asked to talk to kids because she has become a leader in the community as Akron’s first black woman to serve as deputy mayor and many other places of honor.
Through the years, she heard King’s speech many times and came to know it well. So when she heard of events to mark the 50th anniversary, she made plans.
Then she fell, injuring her hand and eye to the extent she couldn’t make the trip.
She spent Saturday watching the events on television.
A friend who did make it to Washington called.
“She said ‘Oh, I’m here listening to the speech,’ and I said, ‘Oh, I want to be there’ ” Jackson said.
She’s looking forward to watching the video of the concluding five minutes.
Even though her part takes only seconds, it stirred emotions.
“Just thinking about it and remembering and seeing how much has happened and today we have a black president and black congressmen and jobs,” she said. “To see what changes have happened and we’ve come a long way.”
And when she turns 80 in November, she will be able to say she echoed King’s words about a future with equality:
“We will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, We are free at last!’ ”
Complete information on King can be found at the website for The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, founded by his wife, Coretta Scott King, in 1968: http://www.thekingcenter.org/
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro..