August 26, 2013

Witnesses of King's speech reflect on how far we've come ... and the long road ahead

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Imagine telling the people at the March on Washington that, in less than 50 years, a black president would be in office.

"No one would have believed it," said Harold Pachios of Cape Elizabeth.

Pachios and others from Maine who attended the march, which was 50 years ago Wednesday, reflected last week on what their hopes were for the future and how society has measured up.

"We have come a long way in one direction, but we have a long way to go in another," said Gerald Talbot of Portland, Maine's first black legislator and a former president of the local chapter of the NAACP.

In the positive direction, Talbot said, he also never imagined that he'd see a black president in his lifetime.

But racism is still very prevalent, Talbot said. "We still have a long way to go when it comes to relationships with blacks and whites," he said.

Talbot said there was evidence of that last week, when Gov. Paul LePage was reported to have said that President Obama hates white people. LePage denied saying that.

"If he said it, he made a statement that is ignorant and uninformed," said Pachios, who questioned what evidence LePage would have to back it up.

Pachios said there's still a lot of racism, but most people haven't experienced what he has in his 77 years.

"Most people younger than me have a hard time getting their heads around the fact that 50 years ago, in many places in this country, a black person couldn't sit on the main floor of a movie theater, couldn't sit in the waiting area in the bus station, couldn't vote," he said.

As a student at Princeton University, he doesn't remember seeing any black students.

"Who would ever have believed that so many people who never had a chance to go to college are there now?" said Rabbi Harry Sky, who once served at Temple Beth El in Portland.

Michael Grunko, who grew up in Bangor, noted that it's even more difficult now for people to get jobs, and jobs for all was one of the major messages of the 1963 march.

One of the goals was accomplished -- making discrimination in the workplace illegal, he said. But now a high school graduate from Millinocket can no longer count on a career as a mill worker.

"The economic progress we hope to see has been stagnated," Grunko said.

Talbot can imagine what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. might say about society today.

"I do think he knows we have come a long way, but I don't think he's satisfied with that," he said. "We still have a dream."

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

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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