People of Many Colors Marching Towards One Goal
by Kristin Clark Taylor
Donna Mastran remembers the March.
She remember the moment Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stepped to the podium of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C to deliver what would become one of the greatest speeches of all time.
She remembers the heart-stopping sight as more than a quarter of a million people filled up every possible inch of space in and around the Memorial, standing shoulder-to-soldier along the Reflection Pool, eager to be inspired, hungry to hear his every word.
But her memories aren’t like yours and mine.
Most of us witnessed that extraordinary day from the comfort of our own living own rooms, watching it unfold on the TV screen. Or, depending on when you were born, by Googling the famous speech or pulling it up on YouTube.
Donna remembers it because she was there. She didn’t just watch the throngs of people on her TV screen in the living room.
She marched among them.
“I knew it was significant, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” she says, remembering the hot, historic day she marched the twelve or thirteen blocks to the Lincoln Memorial with her two roommates and several of her office colleagues.
“I knew what Dr. King stood for, and I wanted to be part of his quest for civil rights,” she says.
“From the minute he stepped up to the podium and I heard him speak,” she recalls with respect and reverence, “I was struck by how real he sounded. There was nothing fake about him. You knew that this was a man whose only goal was to seek civil rights for all people.”
Donna was also inspired to march after witnessing a colleague (an African-American who was pregnant at the time) suffer the sting of discrimination as well. Seeing how her colleague was treated, she says, not only saddened her – it angered her as well.
By calling up these poignant memories, it becomes clear that Donna is giving us a rare gift: The gift of insight.
And as she speaks, she pulls back the curtain on one of the most extraordinary days in American history, offering us a rare glimpse inside.
“You could tell that people realized they were about to become a part of history,” she says.
Her words take us to a place we’ve never been.
“What struck me was how quiet the crowds were,” she says in quiet awe.
“There were tens of thousands of people all around, but at times it was almost eerily quiet. It was really calm. You could tell people were deeply respectful of Dr. King and what was about to happen. It seemed like they understood that history was being made.”
The silence itself was surprising and even inspiring, Donna says — but so were the sounds.
Certainly, there were the sounds of leaders and luminaries stepping up to podium to deliver their stirring speeches … but there was also something else:
It was the sound of music.
“We Shall Overcome”
“Peter, Paul and Mary performed,” Donna remembers, clearly moved by the memory itself.
“So did Bob Dylan,” she recalls, taking us back to that simmering-hot day in August.
And when Joan Baez stepped quietly up to the podium, guitar in hand, and began to sing, “We Shall Overcome,” Donna Mastran was there to witness it.
“Joan Baez was a strong supporter of the civil rights movement, and that really resonated,” she explains.
A lover of folk music herself, Donna recognizes and celebrates the strong connection between the Music and the Movement.
“Joan Baez was a folk singer, and folk singing is all about people … It’s all about real things. Folk singing is about real life,” she says with characteristic humility and gentle respect, almost as though bearing witness to such a monumental event was the most natural thing in the world.
And the more she speaks, the more we come to appreciate this powerful pattern again: Music really did add depth and dimension to that day. It really did add social and emotional texture to the day’s events as they unfolded.
When we realize the instrumental role that music actually played — not just on that historic day but throughout the course of the civil rights movement — we begin to appreciate the value of music’s wider societal impact.
We begin to feel the power that music possesses … to educate, to inspire, to connect, and to bring about change. At every level and in every life, the sound of music helps us process, understand, and cope with the world around us.
This is, in fact, what Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is all about: our ability to develop a deeper social and emotional understanding of our behavior, our emotion, and our larger connection to the world we live in. Music is often the way these pathways to learning are created. The sounds that are conveyed within a single song; the love that is conveyed with a simple lyric – this is how music can bring us together and lift up us.
This much we know is true: Music was the medium that helped spread an important message during that difficult time – a message of tolerance, togetherness and compassion, and it was spread by people of every color.
Music is what helped give our nation voice and our leaders vision – and it enabled us to sound a clarion call for peace and understanding.
And on August 23, 1963, it was the sound of music that helped us heal.
When I ask the question about special songs or images that she remembers most vividly from that day, Donna answers without the slightest hesitation, recalling exactly which song it was that sent souls soaring:
“’We Shall Overcome,’ of course,” she answers without the slightest hesitation. “This was the song that everyone was singing,” she remembers.
And what’s even more important?
“Everyone was singing it together. Black people, white people; people of ever color!”
So it was this song, also, that became the connective thread that helped pull people together and that handed them a little bit of hope. It was this song that became the musical (and social) mantra for an entire era.
Donna was also moved by the physicality of the song; by its ability to bring black people and white people together, and to recognize and celebrate the fact that both races played a vital role in the unfolding of the civil rights movement.
As Donna described it, “We Shall Overcome” helped establish a physical connection between people, too.
“People weren’t just holding hands as they were singing,” she remembers. “They were holding each other’s arms, really making that strong connection.”
We thank you, Donna, for making such a vital difference – not just within our Quaver family, but out there in the larger world.
For taking us back to a place we’d never been and providing a perspective most of us had never even considered.
For helping us remember a piece of our past that the history books sometimes seem to forget: That black people and white people worked together, side by side, hand in hand, arm in arm, to bring about change and social justice during that time.
“I don’t see color. I see character,” Donna says in a simple, straightforward declaration. And in reflecting her own values, she’s reflecting QuaverMusic’s, too.
Music, we know, is the most integrative tool we have our disposal; it is not just a healing balm but an instructive medium through which our children can understand their emotions, deepen their social awareness, and eventually become responsible, compassionate citizens.
On that day in August 1983, music became the major medium.
And today — largely because of how we utilize music to teach our children more about themselves and the world around them — it still is.