DECATUR — The 750-mile road trip to join the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington in 1963 was not for the faint-hearted.
Vain attempts to stop the seven-car caravan from Decatur included a gang of men in West Virginia who threatened the group with boards and a saboteur who slipped something into Joseph Slaw’s gas tank.
Slaw’s then-teenage daughter, Joanne Slaw Belue of Decatur, also remembers someone trying to run the Rev. Jay Logan’s car off the road while they were crossing the Appalachians.
Logan, pastor of Decatur’s First Presbyterian Church at the time, organized the trip.
“We had signs on our cars that read, ‘Washington, D.C., or bust,’ ” said Belue, now 65. “We drove straight through and didn’t stop for anything but gas.”
Fifty years later, the journey to commemorate that historic event has gotten easier.
Decatur residents Corey Cobb, 38, along with 17-year-olds Dontarious Murphy and Dylan Tucker, were among about 70 representatives of the National Association of Colored People who boarded a charter bus in Springfield on Friday to participate in an action Saturday in Washington led by Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“I’m a big fan of history, and I just wanted to be a part of it,” Cobb said.
Jeanelle Norman, in 1963 a junior attending a segregated high school in Chattanooga, Tenn., and in 2013 a retired college professor and president of the Decatur NAACP branch, said there is no doubt progress has been made toward racial equality.
But the sad fact remains that 150 years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after King’s “I have a Dream” speech, Norman said blacks have not fully arrived.
“Unemployment remains outrageously high,” she said. “Police profiling is an issue as well.”
Norman added that some states deny voting rights to older blacks by requiring a birth certificate. “If you’re 80-something and were born at home, that might not be available,” she said.
Keeping King’s dream alive is the purpose of commemorative marches, and Decatur has been represented.
Herald & Review archives show Harvey Williams, 62, went to Washington for the 20th and 25th anniversary marches. “Dr. King’s march changed the country,” he said. “Continuing to march is a way for us to show the country we still have a ways to go.”
Norman herself took a group of students to Washington for the 30th anniversary in 1993 when she was still teaching English at Richland Community College.
Belue, on the other hand, has never been back. “It was my only time going there,” she said.
She’ll never forget the experience, even though she believes most of the 28 other people on the trip have either died — such as Logan, her father and her older sister, Marilyn Slaw Carter — or moved away.
Belue remembers getting a better look at Charlton Heston and Coretta Scott King from her group’s vantage point near the Reflecting Pool than she did Martin Luther King Jr., yet she knew the instant he began speaking that he was a preacher.
Unfortunately, she didn’t get to hear the entire “sermon.” With temperatures topping 100 degrees on Aug. 28, 1963, Belue passed out, had to be revived by her father and listen to the remainder of King’s speech in the shade of a nearby tree.
The line that struck her most was this one: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
“He had four little children like us,” Belue said. “It was like he was talking about Marilyn, me and my baby sister (Elizabeth) and brother (Joseph Jr.), and it moved me.”