Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Looking Back: Aug. 29, 1963

Published August 30, 2013

The March on Washington was the lead story on the front page of the Georgia Bulletin of Aug. 29, 1963, and the editor, Gerard E. Sherry, went to Washington and wrote the news story, which highlighted Catholic aspects more than the historic words of the “I Have a Dream” speech. “Atlanta was represented by several hundred persons, including Dr. Martin Luther King, a leader of the March and president of the Southern Leadership Conference, and Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, president of Morehouse College,” the story stated. It added, “Catholics were prominent among the many religious groups participating in the March, including two archbishops, five bishops and several hundred priests, nuns, seminarians and other Religious.” Archbishop Patrick A. Boyle of Washington gave the invocation and Dr. Mays the benediction. It further noted that the march took place on Aug. 28, the feast day of two African saints, St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Moses the Black. Matthew Ahmann, executive director of the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice, spoke at the rally, saying, “The wind of the racial revolution has finally bent the reed of the conscience of our people.”

In the next edition of the Bulletin, dated Sept. 5, 1963, Sherry wrote a column about the March on Washington, saying that “more than 200,000 Negroes and Whites gave the greatest lesson in brotherhood that this country has witnessed in its entire history.” He said the day began with uncertainty about whether the original estimate that 100,000 people would come could be met. There were also concerns about possible disorders. But bus after bus arrived with people, he said, and the estimate was met and far exceeded. “Great sacrifices had been made by many of the marchers. Some gave up a couple of days’ pay; some would lose their jobs merely for exercising their right to petition; some would lose their meager savings to pay for the trip; and most lost a couple of nights of sleep. What was said and done has been well reported by the nation’s press. What will be accomplished by it one must leave to the history of the immediate future. One thing is certain, the March cannot be ignored because it proved a basic point in our American society—men of good will, black and white, Catholic, Protestant, and Jew, can work together to further the American dream so eloquently spelled out at the rally by Dr. Martin Luther King,” the editor wrote. “Dr. King dismissed the hate mongers, even those of his own race, in the battle for racial justice. He talked about America the beautiful, the land of the free and the home of the brave. His was a message of conciliation, and we would be fools not to take it to heart,” Sherry wrote. “’I have a dream,’ cried Martin Luther King, and it was shared by millions of his fellow citizens from all corners of the land. Men and women, black and white, the mighty and the lowly, all who are fed up with the snail-like progress toward equality,” the editor concluded in his column.

Another Georgia Bulletin columnist, Father Leonard F.X. Mayhew, said that he felt that no one in that present moment of August 1963 should “presume to judge an event that embodied so much of human value—so much suffering and so much dignity.” The gathering “of peaceful men … voiced only noble aspirations and demanded only their rights,” he wrote. Father Mayhew continued, “One of their leaders, Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, reminded them that they must not hate those who mistreated them. He reminded them that unearned suffering is redemptive. He spoke to them of the strength of the freedom within each man’s soul. And they cheered him and went to their homes bravely.” Father Mayhew concluded, “I do not pretend to know all that history will say of the events of August 28, 1963. But one thing it must say. It must say that seldom in the years since man began to walk this earth has there been such eloquent testimony to the dignity, the nobility, the potential for good within the human heart.”