Shantrice Patten chatted with friends in the parking lot of Wal-Mart on Deans Bridge Road while she waited for the bus that would carry her to the nation’s capital for the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King.
Small talk was just about all the North Augusta resident could muster, though. The thought of the sights and sounds she would see left her overwhelmed.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me,” she said. “I signed up for it automatically. I’m just speechless.”
Patten was just one of 55 people who left Friday night for Washington to participate in the 50th Anniversary March on Washington Rally to be held today.
The trip was organized by Charles J. Smith Sr., president of Augusta’s NAACP chapter, who had been planning it since the start of the year.
The trip wasn’t just for Augustans, Smith said. Washington, Greene, Morgan and Coffee counties were all represented by the time the large charter bus rolled into the parking lot. One participant drove more than 3½ hours to Augusta to catch the bus.
“We all want to make sure (King’s) dream becomes a reality forever,” he said. “Thousands of people marching arm in arm to Dr. King’s statue sitting over the Potomac River is going to send a message to the world. Everybody that you see here, we want them to be empowered.”
Behind Smith stood Sean Harris, of Augusta, rifling through his belongings before the bus arrived. Amid a great deal of noise, he pulled out an extremely large shirt covered with campaign-style buttons.
“People will want to take pictures with me,” he said, letting out a big laugh. “I kind of enjoy it.”
Harris said he made 3,000 buttons for the trip. Some featured King’s face next to President Obama’s. Another was intended as a commemorative pin for people attending the rally.
Harris said he will sell the buttons for $3 a piece.
“I kind of want to take part in history and do something too,” he said, picking up a commemorative pin. “This is for someone who, 20 years down the road, can say ‘I was there.’ ”
About 7:30 p.m., a large white bus lumbered into the parking lot. Smith stood at the steps of the bus and conducted a roll call as young and old filed in.
Before departing, Smith said he hopes that the participants from Augusta will bring back more than just memories.
“Let’s come back to Augusta-Richmond County and see what we can do to make this place a better, unified community,” he said. “We cannot abandon hope, and we will not abandon the dream.”