At 16, Making A Trek To Make The '63 March On Washington | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

At 16, Making A Trek To Make The '63 March On Washington

Play associated audio

Lawrence Cumberbatch was only 16 when he trekked, on foot, from New York City to Washington, D.C., to join the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Lawrence, now 66, was the youngest person on the march with the Brooklyn branch of the Congress of Racial Equality.

His parents thought two weeks on the open road would be too dangerous for a teenager and made their best effort to dissuade him, Lawrence tells his son, Simeon, 39, at StoryCorps in New York.

"There's always someone in most families that everybody looks to as the authority. And in my case it was my mother's brother, Lloyd," Lawrence says. "So they did the usual, 'Go and see Uncle Lloyd. He wants to talk to you.' They were so sure [that] 'Well, he'll fix this,' " he says, laughing.

But the conversation didn't go quite as Lawrence's parents envisioned. "I discussed it with him, and he says, 'You know, you've thought this out, this makes sense.' So, he told my parents ... " 'I think the boy is OK, so he'll be safe.' And that was it. They followed his advice."

Between Aug. 15 and Aug. 27, 1963, Lawrence and the other members of Brooklyn CORE walked from sunup to sunset each day, he says. "Our diet was eating out of the Coke machines in the gas stations — cheese, crackers with peanut butter — for the whole 13 days, that's all we ate."

The authorities wouldn't allow the group onto the turnpike, Lawrence says, so they walked on U.S. Route 1 instead. And upon reaching Delaware, Lawrence recalls, "they would not let us stop for any purpose. ... They literally put a patrol car behind us and one in front, and they marched us 30 miles until we were out of their jurisdiction."

When they arrived in Washington, the group marched to the demonstration on the National Mall. They were led to the platform, Lawrence says, "and we were right behind King. It was overwhelming.

"People said, 'Well, what did you think about the speech?' I says, 'Nobody who was on that podium was thinking about the speech,' " Lawrence tells Simeon. "It was just so mind-blowing to look at this sea of people. You'll never see this again."

"This was definitely a defining moment," Simeon tells his dad. "I remember when I saw clips of Martin Luther King's speech at Washington, my mother said, 'Your father's right behind him.' It's a proud history, and you — you're a hero of mine."

"Thank you," Lawrence says. "I am very proud of that."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon with Eve Claxton

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

How One Poet's 'Genius Grant' Became A Gift To Future Generations

Amy Clampitt was named a MacArthur genius in 1992. Today, the home she bought with her award money is used to house rising poets in tuition-free residencies.
NPR

Edible Packaging? Retailers Not Quite Ready To Ditch The Wrapper

To reduce waste, some enterprising companies are trying to roll out products that make the package part of the snack — edible packaging. But selling it to the retail market is trickier than it seems.
NPR

House Could Vote $500 Million To Arm, Train Syrian Rebels

The possible vote to authorize the Obama administration's plan to arm and train moderate fighters comes as the president meets with military officials at U.S. Central Command.
NPR

When The Power's Out, Solar Panels May Not Keep The Lights On

With the price of solar panels falling, more municipalities and homeowners are installing them. But having solar panels doesn't mean you won't lose power in a blackout — at least not yet.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.