StoryCorps
3:20 am
Fri August 23, 2013

At 16, Making A Trek To Make The '63 March On Washington

Originally published on Fri August 23, 2013 6:47 pm

Lawrence Cumberbatch was only 16 when he trekked, on foot, from New York City to Washington, D.C., to join the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Lawrence, now 66, was the youngest person on the march with the Brooklyn branch of the Congress of Racial Equality.

His parents thought two weeks on the open road would be too dangerous for a teenager and made their best effort to dissuade him, Lawrence tells his son, Simeon, 39, at StoryCorps in New York.

"There's always someone in most families that everybody looks to as the authority. And in my case it was my mother's brother, Lloyd," Lawrence says. "So they did the usual, 'Go and see Uncle Lloyd. He wants to talk to you.' They were so sure [that] 'Well, he'll fix this,' " he says, laughing.

But the conversation didn't go quite as Lawrence's parents envisioned. "I discussed it with him, and he says, 'You know, you've thought this out, this makes sense.' So, he told my parents ... " 'I think the boy is OK, so he'll be safe.' And that was it. They followed his advice."

Between Aug. 15 and Aug. 27, 1963, Lawrence and the other members of Brooklyn CORE walked from sunup to sunset each day, he says. "Our diet was eating out of the Coke machines in the gas stations — cheese, crackers with peanut butter — for the whole 13 days, that's all we ate."

The authorities wouldn't allow the group onto the turnpike, Lawrence says, so they walked on U.S. Route 1 instead. And upon reaching Delaware, Lawrence recalls, "they would not let us stop for any purpose. ... They literally put a patrol car behind us and one in front, and they marched us 30 miles until we were out of their jurisdiction."

When they arrived in Washington, the group marched to the demonstration on the National Mall. They were led to the platform, Lawrence says, "and we were right behind King. It was overwhelming.

"People said, 'Well, what did you think about the speech?' I says, 'Nobody who was on that podium was thinking about the speech,' " Lawrence tells Simeon. "It was just so mind-blowing to look at this sea of people. You'll never see this again."

"This was definitely a defining moment," Simeon tells his dad. "I remember when I saw clips of Martin Luther King's speech at Washington, my mother said, 'Your father's right behind him.' It's a proud history, and you — you're a hero of mine."

"Thank you, Sim," Lawrence says. "I am very proud of that."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon with Eve Claxton

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps, the project that captures the stories of everyday people. Next week is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. So let's hear about one man's journey to that event on foot from New York City to Washington D.C. Lawrence Cumberbatch was only 16 when he walked with a group from Brooklyn.

His parents thought two weeks on the open road was too dangerous for a teenager, and as Lawrence Cumberbatch told his son, they tried to talk him out of it.

LAWRENCE CUMBERBATCH: There's always someone in most families that everybody looks to as the authority. And in my case it was my mother's brother, Lloyd. So they did the usual. Go and see Uncle Lloyd. He wants to talk to you. They were so sure - well, he'll fix this. And I discussed it with him, and he says, You know, you've thought this out, this makes sense.

So he told my parents, he says, I think the boy is okay, he'll be safe. And that was it. They followed his advice. We basically walked every day from sun up to sunset.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

CUMBERBATCH: Our diet was eating out of the Coke machines in the gas stations, cheese crackers with peanut butter. For the whole 13 days that's all we ate. We walked on U.S. 1 because the Turnpike authorities wouldn't allow us and the state of Delaware, they would not let us stop for any purpose and we had to walk and they literally put a patrol car behind us and one in front, and they marched us 30 miles until we were out of their jurisdiction.

When we got to Washington, we marched into the demonstration on the Mall and were led to the platform. And we were right behind King. It was overwhelming.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I have the pleasure to present to you Dr. Martin Luther King, J-R.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: I am happy to join with you today...

CUMBERBATCH: People said, Well, what did you think about the speech? I says, Nobody who was on that podium was thinking about the speech. It was just so mind-blowing to look at this sea of people. You'll never see this again.

SIMEON CUMBERBATCH: This was definitely a defining moment.

CUMBERBATCH: Yeah, I'd never forget this stuff.

CUMBERBATCH: I remember when I saw clips of Martin Luther King's speech at Washington, my mother said, Your father's right behind him. It's a proud history, and you're a hero of mine.

CUMBERBATCH: Thank you, son. I am very proud of that.

MONTAGNE: That's Lawrence Cumberbatch with his son Simeon at StoryCorps in New York. Their interview, along with all StoryCorps interviews, will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Subscribe to the StoryCorps podcast at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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