Pittsburgh Pirates fans celebrate victory in the World Series, October 1960. George Silk for Life magazine.
August 28, 1963: "The March on Washington"
The first special train arrived at Union Station in Washington D.C. before 7 a.m. and carried 535 marchers from Pittsburgh. Next came a train from Cincinnati. People were coming by bus, plane, automobile, bicycle and foot. The whole affair was giving the nation’s capital a case of the jitters. Alcohol sales were banned. Hospitals and jails made room for an onslaught of arrivals. More than 5,000 police were on hand. Many expected riots and looting.
Instead, the “March for Jobs and Freedom” had the peaceful atmosphere of a church picnic. Known now as the “March on Washington,” the event drew more than 200,000 people to the capital and became a defining moment in the nation’s Civil Rights Movement.
The march itself was fairly short — nine blocks, from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where formal ceremonies were held. In the front ranks were the Pittsburgh delegation, singing marching songs and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Men removed their coats in the summer heat. The chant of “freedom, freedom” filled the air. At the Lincoln Memorial, speakers and musicians awaited the start of the official program. Not everyone was pleased with President John F. Kennedy’s pending Civil Rights legislation. Two Kennedy aides stood by, ready to pull the plug on the sound system should any of the speakers get out of hand.
Of course, The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was the day’s highlight. It was carried live on television and is today considered one of the most important and moving speeches in American history.
Before the march, the Pennsylvania delegation met with Rep. William S. Moorhead, a Pittsburgh Democrat. Over coffee and breakfast rolls, Moorhead confided that passage of Civil Rights legislation then before Congress was by no means certain — blunt assessment that “mystified and dismayed” Moorhead’s fellow Pittsburghers, according to the Press.
“Do you think our coming here has helped the bill?” one marcher asked.
Probably, Moorhead replied. The march, in fact, is now credited with providing the political momentum that ensured passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
On This Day in Pittsburgh History: August 6, 1928
Andrew Warhola is born in Pittsburgh.
July 1, 1913: Former enemies come together at Gettysburg
The white-haired men came together with the enthusiasm of young boys on a vacation, according to an account in The Pittsburgh Press. They laughed with giddy abandon, flung their arms around each other and made silly jokes.
But as the sun began to set, the men remembered they were old. They remembered how, as young men, they had tried to kill each other on the very ground on which they stood now. They remembered the dying and the suffering, the courage and cowardice. The men then grew somber and talked in whispered tones.
A century ago this week, veterans who’d fought in the greatest battle ever waged on this continent gathered to commemorate the event’s 50th anniversary. Thousands of old soldiers descended on Gettysburg. At first, they overwhelmed the small town and the government’s efforts to care for them. Stooped men exhausted by long train journeys hobbled from camp to camp, looking for places to rest, only to discover all tents were occupied. Many could find nothing to eat. The heat was merciless. During the gathering, nine died from heat exhaustion and heart ailments.
But these were men accustomed to hardship. They’d survived the battle, the war and the half century that had passed since then. Now in their final years of life, they were determined to see this thing through. They knew it would be the last great gathering of those with memories of the horrors unleashed in places such as Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, Culp’s Hill and the Wheatfield.
Over the next few days, these former enemies tottered arm-in-arm over the fighting ground, pointing out the locations of regiments and brigades, sharing stories and memories. “Brother,” they called each other. Blue and gray.
In time, death would take them all. But they would leave behind proof that men once charged with destroying each other could, years later, achieve not just forgiveness, but something close to grace.
Learn more about the Gettysburg battle in a PG special interactive presentation.
(Top picture: Survivors of Pickett’s Charge reenact the event)
On This Day in Pittsburgh History: May 1, 1969
Fred Rogers, host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” appeared before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications to oppose significant proposed cuts to funding for PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. [Youtube]
Sen. Pastore: All right, Rogers, you’ve got the floor.
Mr. Rogers: Sen. Pastore, this is a philosophical statement and would take about ten minutes to read, so I’ll not do that. One of the first things that a child learns in a healthy family is trust, and I trust what you have said that you will read this. It’s very important to me. I care deeply about children.
Sen. Pastore: Will it make you happy if you read it?
Mr. Rogers: I’d just like to talk about it, if it’s alright. My first children’s program was on WQED fifteen years ago, and its budget was $30. Now, with the help of the Sears-Roebuck Foundation and National Educational Television, as well as all of the affiliated stations — each station pays to show our program. It’s a unique kind of funding in educational television. With this help, now our program has a budget of $6000. It may sound like quite a difference, but $6000 pays for less than two minutes of cartoons. Two minutes of animated, what I sometimes say, bombardment. I’m very much concerned, as I know you are, about what’s being delivered to our children in this country. And I’ve worked in the field of child development for six years now, trying to understand the inner needs of children. We deal with such things as — as the inner drama of childhood. We don’t have to bop somebody over the head to…make drama on the screen. We deal with such things as getting a haircut, or the feelings about brothers and sisters, and the kind of anger that arises in simple family situations. And we speak to it constructively. (more)
On This Day in Pittsburgh History: March 17, 1936
Regional flood controls fail as Downtown is inundated with water in what will become known as the infamous St. Patrick’s Day flood, claiming at least 150 lives. Floodwaters reached a crest of 46.4 feet, the highest in the city’s history.
On This Day in Pittsburgh History: December 23, 1972
In the first Steelers playoff in 25 years (and their first postseason win), Franco Harris salvages a Terry Bradshaw pass in the greatest NFL play in history—to beat the Raiders 13-7 at Three Rivers. Art Rooney and Bob Prince miss the play while in the elevator to the locker room. [Wikipedia; Pro Football Hall of Fame]