Residents plan D.C. trip for dedication

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Augusta resident Muhammad Harisuddin stood on the National Mall in 1963 when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Muhammad Harisuddin and some of his friends made a last-minute plan to travel to the March on Washington in 1963.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Muhammad Harisuddin and some of his friends made a last-minute plan to travel to the March on Washington in 1963.

The 18-year-old would not realize the significance of it until years later.

"It became a turning point in the civil rights movement. It caused our country to finally grow into the nation it was designed to be," Harisuddin said.

He shared that day with an audience of more than 200,000 others. This year, on Aug. 28, the 48th anniversary of the event, nearly double that number might go to the National Mall to dedicate a long-anticipated monument honoring the slain civil rights leader.

Augusta residents can join them by reserving a seat on a charter bus tour organized by Shirley Nixon.

"Young people especially need to know what happened a long time ago," said Nixon, of Augusta. "King believed in a country for all of us, black and white."

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial sits on the border of the National Mall's Tidal Basin between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. The $120 million project includes a statue of King in an arms-folded pose emerging from a block of granite.

Augusta resident Noura Gordon hopes to attend its unveiling and dedication.

"I think it's a beautiful thing they're finally acknowledging King for all he's done. He was a peacemaker equivalent to Gandhi. He wasn't into retaliation," she said.

Harisuddin said he probably won't go to the dedication because of the summer heat, but he hopes to visit the site in the fall.

"There's a Negro leader on the mall, that really says something about the nation," he said. "They've given us a place with Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln. Do you know what kind of company that is?"

Until the summer of 1963, Harisuddin had never participated in a civil rights event, but the nation was abuzz with talk about the upcoming March on Washington. The most prominent black leaders would be there along with big-name entertainers.

"It's where people were going," Harisuddin said.

Growing up in the rural town of Ashland, Va., Harisuddin said, he had been "conditioned to care" about racial discrimination by a father who was staunchly protective of his family and who, Harrisuddin admits, had "a bitter taste in his mouth for white people."

In the early-morning hours of Aug. 28, 1963, Harisuddin, who had recently graduated from high school, was working the graveyard shift at a truck stop. He and two friends who were with him talked until 4 a.m. about the march that would to take place in just a few hours.

"Finally we said, 'Let's go. Let's go up there,' " Harrisuddin said.

When they got to the capital, they saw people who had started gathering before sunrise.

The lineup of speakers was long, and King's 17-minute speech was the headline event. The idealism of it stretched Harrisuddin's imagination.

"He talked about little black children and little white children holding hands. These kinds of words, you just didn't hear people talking like that in those days," he said. "Rather than holding hands, I wanted their feet off me."

The March on Washington was widely credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). Harisuddin realized in later years how important that day on the National Mall had been.

"It was new behavior," he said. "There had been some local protests and lunch counter sit-ins up until then, but nothing of this magnitude. I don't know of another event in American history that had this kind of impact, where so many people got together to express themselves on an issue."

Get on the bus

Buses for Washington D.C. will depart from the Belks shopping center in North Augusta at midnight Saturday Aug. 27 and return early Aug. 29. The cost is $80 per person, due by noon Aug. 5. Call Shirley Nixon at 706-589-4843 or 706-724-0368.

Also, buses from Savannah River Tours will leave from Southgate Plaza in Augusta at 12:30 a.m. and from the Belks shopping center in North Augusta at 1:00 a.m. Aug. 28 and return Aug. 29 at 1 a.m. Cost is $85 per person. A deposit is due July 15 with the balance due Aug. 19. Reservations can be made by calling (803) 202-1009 or (800) 750-7287.

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