Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum

Local History: March on Washington's 50th Anniversary

Personal Stories

Several Jewish Washingtonians have shared their stories of the March on Washington with us.

Arlene Epstein
"I think that anyone who had any sympathy at all for the civil rights movement knew about the march. I was not an active worker in the civil rights movement but I was highly sympathetic and wanted to be a part of that day.

Photograph of Arlene and David EpsteinMy husband, David, wanted to take part in the march also, but he was called up by his National Guard Unit to be on duty downtown that day. He was stationed at 14th and Constitution; he told me later that his unit was told where the guns were stored in the area 'in case of trouble.' But he was proud that he was there too, even though he couldn't actually march.

I went to the march with good friends, Shirley and Jay Goldberg, who left their son with a baby sitter, on his first birthday, to attend the march. I remember very little about the details, how we actually got there, where we joined up with the marchers -- all a blur. But the memory that has stayed with me all these years, was the deep and profound joy of marching along the streets of Washington with thousands of people, mostly black but many white, joining together for a cause I deeply believed in. When we all sang, over and over, as we marched along 'I do believe, that We Shall Overcome, someday.' We all did deeply believe that this truly was a powerful moment in history. And we were right -- it was, and I will always be proud that I was there that day."

Jay Freedman
"I had a summer job after my Junior year in college with the U.S. Marshal's office at the United States District Court Building. All the Marshals, including the summer interns, were told to come to work that morning and be prepared to stay for 24 hours. This was in anticipation of problems that never occurred. I was actually stationed (with a billy club!) at a street corner along Pennsylvania Avenue during the march toward the Lincoln Memorial. After it was clear that there were not going to be any problems, we were able to go home about 8 or 9 p.m. that evening."

Photograph of Dene Garbow holding her framed March program

Dene Garbow holds her
program from the March.

Dene Garbow, a Chicago native, had been active in the civil rights movement while attending Indiana University. Living in Alexandria, Virginia, at the time of the March, she attended the event with her neighbors.

Listen to Mrs. Garbow describe the atmosphere, her feelings about being at the March, and speakers that she remembers (2:52).

Today Mrs. Garbow is retired from a career as a teacher and later as manager of the National Building Museum's award-winning gift shop.

Photograph of Michael GoldmanMichael Goldman was 19 and a college student when he and his father, Aaron, drove from their Northwest Washington home to attend the March. His father had long been active in the civil rights movement.

Listen to Mr. Goldman describe getting to the March, where they stood, the atmosphere, and his initial reactions to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech (4:13). Read more about his experiences here.

Mr. Goldman later attended law school and worked in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Today he works as a Jewish chaplain at Georgetown University Law Center.

Fred A. Kahn
At the time I was affiliated with Howard University, teaching a required course for graduation entitled 'World Civilizations.' I also had met a few weeks earlier a foreign exchange student from Taiwan, Rita Chow. I called her at her work at the then Doctor's Hospital and ask her to join me to hear Dr. King. She and I came right in time when Mr. [A. Philip] Randolph was introducing Dr. King, about 4:00 p.m. We were very near the podium, located on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Monument. That is a few yards away near the first tree looking toward the monument. The speech still resonates in my mind fifty years later. Less than four months later I would marry Rita at the Washington Hebrew Congregation by Rabbi [Norman] Gerstenfeld. To me, a Holocaust survivor, it was abhorent to find [out] about discrimination against people of their skin color which I learned when I first arrived in the US in 1952. I will be married soon 50 years to Rita, the mother of Anna Kahn Hogenkamp."

Photograph of Rabbi Aaron Pearlstein reading Torah, 1965Rabbi Aaron Pearlstein (z"l) was a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) when he and several classmates journeyed to Washington on a chartered bus to attend the March. They left New York City the morning of the March and came back that night.
Learn about Dr. King's ties to JTS

Rabbi Pearlstein graduated from the Seminary in 1964. He served as rabbi of Congregation Nevey Shalom (Bowie, Maryland) in the 1960s and 1970s, and later was assistant rabbi of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County. His wife, Dr. Peggy Pearlstein, shared his story with the Society. Today she is Head of the Hebraic Section of the Library of Congress.

Judith (Weil) Shanks
"I had recently moved to DC to take a job at the Export-Import Bank -- I graduated Wellesley '63, and moved here July 1, 1963. My going to the March was more about participating in a Happening, and from Curiosity, than from any particular conviction. We were excused from work -- my office was catty-corner across from Lafayette Square -- I had been born & raised in Montgomery, Al."

Photograph of Rabbi Matthew SimonRabbi Matthew Simon, then living in Encino, California, flew overnight with fellow rabbis from California to attend the March. He had been active in civil rights, particularly voter registration, before the March. Read more about his experiences here.

Today, Rabbi Simon is Rabbi Emeritus of B'nai Israel Congregation in Rockville, Maryland.

Frank Spigel was a recent high school graduate living outside of Philadelphia when he learned about the March from a friend of his mother. His mother did not require much persuasion to allow him to go. Mr. Spigel came to Washington in bus chartered by the Americans for Democratic Action.

When the bus dropped the group off near the National Mall, Mr. Spigel remembers feeling "like a victorious army" was coming into the city. He and his companions found a grassy spot not far from the Lincoln Memorial to sit and listen to the speeches. He has fond memories of all of the speeches leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s concluding address. Fifty years later, he particularly remembers Rabbi Joachim Prinz's remarks that Jews were slaves in Egypt, and thus proud to be a part of the Civil Rights Movement.

Toward the end of the program, one of Mr. Spigel's companions asked if he wanted to go for refreshments. He decided to remain in place, and his companions quickly returned when Dr. King began his concluding "I Have A Dream" speech. All recognized the historic nature of the moment.

After the March concluded, the group returned to Philadelphia. Mr. Spigel later moved to Washington and worked as a Reference Assistant at the Library of Congress.

Julian Tepper was a marshal at the March. He escorted performers to the Lincoln Memorials. He remembers:

"Watching and lifting the entertainers (over fences, especially Odetta). Holding the long scroll rolled out by Burt Lancaster. Seeing Charlton Heston drawing sketches. Listening to Woody Allen talking to others. Listening to Joan Baez sing in station wagon that carted some of us around."

We're looking for stories and objects documenting Jewish Washingtonians' participation in the March. Were you there? Did you participate?
Fill out this form and we'll be in touch!