PALM BAY, Florida (USA TODAY) -- Myrue Spivey wanted to burn America down. The year
was 1963, and the then-15-year-old was living in south Melbourne,
nursing a burning hatred for white people, when he first heard about the
March on Washington and the prophetic dream offered by a minister named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
march - with its appeal to the nation's conscience for justice, jobs
and equality - did not make a good impression on the Stone High School
student for whom racism wasn't abstract. One particularly sharp memory:
Being chased by a shotgun-wielding man while being called the N-word.
thought Dr. King was too passive, too easy with all that talk of
nonviolence. ...The real world for me dealt with how we would play
basketball and how we would have to ride as far as Okeechobee to play
other schools because we couldn't play white teams," said Spivey, who
recounted rallying others years later to throw Molotov cocktails in
south Melbourne and other spots during unrest in 1969.
But time -
and the turmoil that marked the 1960s and early 1970s in the wake of the
March - did bring change. And many credit King's vision that August day
50 years ago Wednesday with transforming, not only America, but also
millions of Americans whose own views were challenged by King's "I Have a
Dream" speech.play other teams because we couldn't play white schools,"
said Spivey, who recounted rallying others years later to throw Molotov
cocktails in south Melbourne and other spots during unrest in 1969.
came from a philosophical approach, and that caused people to think
about what was happening. It didn't happen overnight, but it chipped
away at all the falsehoods we were holding about each other. God really,
really used that man," said Spivey.
Spivey, a 65-old pastor, leads a diverse evangelical Christian
congregation at Grace Bible Sanctuary in Palm Bay. It's a long way from
where Spivey was before he embraced King's message - he had espoused
black nationalism, dealt hard drugs and worked as a pimp in Miami.
see the 1963 March on Washington - which drew more than 250,000 people -
as a pivotal moment in American history, not just for civil rights, but
for its role in showing the success of large-scale, nonviolent protests
for change. The next year came the Civil Rights Act, then the Voting
Rights Act in 1965, followed by a series of changes in laws regarding
housing and employment.
Fifty years later, the moral and cultural
impact of the March and King's message continues to resonate - from the
election of the first black president to the calls for justice in the
shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
"The March really
brought attention to the civil rights movement. Certainly, there had
been other protests, even the assassination of Medgar Evers and other
incidents that showcased the brutality of segregation," said Aubrey
Jewett, an associate professor of politic
al science at the University of Florida.
this was different. It was an eye-opener and brought the realization
that something had to be done, and there's no doubt that Dr. King was
the highlight of the program."
To millions, the march ushered in
change. But not everything King lobbied for was achieved, and for some
the movement has strayed.
It was Aug. 28,
1963, and a hot, muggy day as hundreds of buses packed with marchers
streamed into Washington, D.C. In the teeming crowd were four Cocoa
students from the all-black Monroe High School. The four, escorted by a
chaperone, rode aboard the Freedom Train through the South to the
capital's Union Station.
"I had been in St. Augustine a few weeks
before at another march and saw the Ku Klux Klan pull up in a truck and
attack a mother and her children. And it left me with a hatred that was
worse than any cancer you could diagnose," said Rosemary McGill, one of
the students marching in Washington that day.
"So when I got off
the train and saw all of those people in that crowd of blacks and
whites, I thought there would be trouble," said McGill, who now works as
the multicultural specialist at Eastern Florida State College.
Then something happened that changed her life forever:
man behind her grabbed, continually, at the 17-year-old as the marchers
neared the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the Reflecting Pool. There were
crowds as far as the eye could see. The man grabbed at her again.
one point, I said to myself that I wasn't going to take it again if he
touched me. Then, as I was getting ready to turn around, my delegate
called my name and told me to help that same man up the stairs. He was
blind. And he, too, was singing freedom songs," she said. "It changed my
concept of white folks."
The march came 12 years after civil
rights activists Harry and Harriette T. Moore were killed by a bomb in
their Mims, Fla., home on Christmas night. Two months before the March,
civil rights leader Medgar Evers was gunned down in his Jackson, Miss.,
At the march, McGill said the crowd rose to its feet
when King stood at the podium. With his deep, baritone cadence, he
elevated the movement to a moral high ground by offering a vision of an
America free of racial animus, she said.
"With this faith, we will
be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a
beautiful symphony of brotherhood," King said, in a voice that boomed
across the National Mall and into television sets across the nation.
"With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to
struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom
together, knowing that we will be free one day."
difficulties remain. Gregory Poulos, 61, of Palm Bay, is the chairman
of America's Party of Florida, a national political party that in 2008
nominated former U.S. Ambassador Alan Keyes, who is black, as its
Poulos said he thinks King would balk at
what he sees as the breakdown of the family, the prevalence of abortion
and the Christless direction of the nation.
"The civil rights
movement seems to have been hijacked. You have Jesse Jackson and Al
Sharpton. ... I would agree that the (leadership) seems more
opportunistic. You also have the civil rights movement supporting
abortion or homosexuality, things that King, I believe, would use his
voice against," said Poulos, who was 11 at the time of the march.
say equality for same-sex couples and other minority rights would be
consistent with King's dream of inclusion. Racial discrimination - one
of the primary reasons for the march - remains. Pastor Glenn Dames is
former president of the North Brevard Chapter of the NAACP and an early
organizer of rallies in the Trayvon Martin case.
perplexes me to hear people who never lived our experience define our
problems. You have people who still refuse to believe that there is
discrimination," Dames said.
Others note struggles that continue
in poverty, equality of pay and jobs. Black unemployment, for example,
is above the national average of 7.4 percent in July at 12.6 percent,
according to the U.S. Labor Department.
"I'm very disappointed. I
think King would still be marching. He was out there for poor people. We
still have racial issues, the economics. King would be out there
talking about communities being responsible for each other," said Ret.
Col. Nathan Thomas, who attended the 1963 march.
Spivey, the march and King's ideals shattered stereotypes he'd held,
but it took time. In his case, two decades would pass before Spivey
embraced King's vision. In 1975, Spivey became a born-again Christian
and took another look at King's message.
"He broke away the ignorance, the glass ceiling began to crack and other pockets of change," said Spivey.
believes more work needs to be done, especially in the church, an
institution that King said hosted "the most segregated hour" in America.
still need to confront racism today as wicked and as sin," said Spivey.
"Tragically, you still see some resistance, but the church should be
modeling that behavior."