Michael Grunko, Rabbi Harry Sky, Gerald Talbot and Harold Pachios

August 26, 2013

Maine remembers March on Washington at 50

Four attendees recount why they went, the upbeat atmosphere and the Dr. King speech that changed history – and their lives.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Rabbi Harry Sky's congregants at his synagogue, Temple Beth El, begged him to go.

click image to enlarge

Civil rights marchers gather on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963.

File photo/The Associated Press

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Rabbi Harry Sky, left, Gerald Talbot, second from left, and other Maine civil rights activists prepare to board buses headed for the March on Washington in 1963. When Sky told his congregates in Portland about the planned march, they insisted that he participate and paid for his trip.

Courtesy Portland chapter of the NAACP

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Harold Pachios' former editor at the Evening Express asked him to cover it for the newspaper.

Michael Grunko got permission from his parents, and Gerald Talbot received the blessing of both his wife and his boss.

Fifty years ago Wednesday, the four men from Maine joined more than 200,000 people who packed the space between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial for an unprecedented rally for civil rights that changed the course of history -- and their lives.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was organized to draw attention to civil rights and economic issues. The next year, the Civil Rights Act was passed, making racial and other forms of discrimination illegal.

Sky first heard it was happening while in the capital for a rabbinical convention. He talked about it during the service at his Portland synagogue the next week, and members of the congregation came up to him afterward.

"They said, 'Rabbi, you have to go,'" Sky, 89, recalled last week.

When he told them he couldn't afford the trip, they insisted on paying his way.

Pachios, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth, was already in Washington, working as deputy congressional liaison for the Peace Corps and going to law school at night at Georgetown University. He got a call from an editor at the Portland newspaper where he briefly worked after college, asking if he was planning to attend the march.

"He said, 'Can you give us some coverage?'" said Pachios, 77. The young Pachios agreed and did call in a story to the Evening Express.

Grunko, then a rising senior at Bangor High School, also got a call -- from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- asking him to be the Maine youth representative for the organization.

Grunko had joined the NAACP almost by accident after seeing a poster at the University of Maine, where he was taking lessons to correct a stutter. He wrote to the group seeking more information about the organization and was sent back a membership application.

After he joined, he didn't hear much more from them until he got the call that summer.

"I said, 'Sounds good to me, but I've got to talk to my parents,'" said Grunko, 67.

They had cause to be concerned. That spring, young protesters in Birmingham, Ala., were attacked by police officers with clubs and high-pressure hoses.

Grunko first appealed to his father, a Polish immigrant with "a strong sense of history," he said. "I convinced him I should go on this march, and we convinced my mom."

For Talbot, approval first had to come from his wife, who would be left alone to take care of their three daughters, all younger than 6 years old.

Anita Talbot said she was concerned for his safety, because there was talk that the march could turn violent, but she believed it was her husband's calling.

"He really needed to go," she said.

Talbot also needed permission from his boss at the Portland printing company where he worked almost every day. Much to Talbot's surprise, his boss gave him the time off.

 

The night before the march, Grunko took a Greyhound bus from Bangor to Lewiston, where he got in a car that stopped in Portland to pick up more people going to the march, including Sky, and headed to Boston. Talbot, too, carpooled to Boston, where they all got on buses that took them to Washington.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965, two years after the March on Washington, surrounded by members of Congress. At left behind the man in the light-colored suit, looking away from LBJ, is associate press secretary Harold Pachios of Cape Elizabeth, who later was a founding partner at a Portland law firm.

Photo by Robert L. Knudsen/The White House

  


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