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

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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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As they traveled south through the night, more buses coming from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut joined the caravan, lining the highways and overwhelming the Howard Johnson's restaurants, where they stopped for bathroom breaks along the way.

Churches in Baltimore awaited their arrival with breakfast for the travelers before the final leg of their trip.

In Washington, the march shut down the city, said Pachios. Offices were closed and parking was banned.

"Buses were lining every street," he said.

Police were everywhere, too. There was a fear that, with so many people, the march would get out of control. But it never came close.

Pachios said the whole day was "extraordinarily upbeat," with people smiling and singing.

"It was like riding on a cloud," Grunko said.

Talbot described it as a giant picnic.

It was a long day with a full program of performers, including Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and 18 speakers -- most notably, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By the time King got up to deliver his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, the crowd was weary from standing in the sun for so long, Talbot said. But the mood soon changed.

"It woke everybody up," he said. "They came to life."

Pachios was standing just below the Lincoln Memorial near the end of the reflecting pool. From there, he could see King, although he looked small, especially compared with the huge sculpture of Lincoln looming behind him.

"The symbolism of doing this at the Lincoln Memorial was, frankly, overwhelming," Pachios said.

Sky remembers looking around at what first seemed like just a sea of faces. Then, suddenly, he said, they became human to him.

"I felt like I was in the middle of a great happening," Grunko said.

At the time, though, the men couldn't have guessed how major that moment in history was.

"I did not realize that I would be here 50 years later to celebrate something that I took part in because I believed in it and still do," Talbot said.

The march, Sky said, "opened the door to all of the change that has come about since then."

It also had a profound personal effect on those who were there.

"It influenced my life and made me feel involvement and activism and taking a stand and being willing to take criticism because you believed in something was OK," said Grunko, who got involved in Democratic Party politics and served as president for the local Service Employees International Union in Massachusetts, where he now lives.

Grunko planned to leave Friday for Washington to participate in the anniversary celebration of the march with his wife and 11-year-old grandson.

"I'm going to hand him the torch," he said.

At the time of the march, Pachios was already on a path toward political involvement. He served on the presidential campaign staff of Lyndon Johnson and later worked as his associate press secretary. He was also on the campaign staff of Maine Sen. Edmund S. Muskie when he won the Democratic nomination for vice president in 1968.

Pachios later returned to Maine, where he became a founding partner of the Portland law firm Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios and served as chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Sky returned to Portland from Washington and got to work organizing a local chapter of the NAACP. A couple of years later, he found himself in the presence of King again, this time sharing the pulpit with him at a rally in Selma, Ala.

Now living in North Carolina, Sky still stays in touch with Talbot, who became the local president of the NAACP. Talbot was also elected to the Maine House of Representatives, the state's first black legislator. His daughter, Rachel Talbot Ross, is now president of the NAACP's Portland chapter.

Talbot said he returned from Washington after the march knowing he had to figure out how to strengthen the black community in Portland.

"That day, I will say, changed my whole life," he said. 

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:



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Additional Photos

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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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