By Robyn Hutson
It was a warm Wednesday morning. Vivian Henderson’s Northwest Washington, D.C. home was silent due to the absence of her two school-aged children and her husband, who unexpectedly had to work at their family business that day. It was only a matter of hours before that silence was invaded by deafening and passionate clamor.
Although she was alone, August 28, 1963, was a day in history in which Vivian was determined to take part. She got dressed, made her way downtown, and merged into the sea of over 200,000 people, all unwavering in their values and in unison with their voices. The melody of “We Shall Overcome” is stitched into the 92-year-old’s memory.
“It was a joyous day,” Vivian said. “I was determined to go because of the cause.” Marchers were standing up against various systems of oppression that infringed on the civil rights of African-Americans. Racial violence, voting intimidation, and hiring discrimination are just a few of the injustices that blacks were facing and continue to face today 54 years later. “Man’s inhumanity,” as stated in the pamphlet that Vivian was given upon her arrival, was clearly not in accordance with the United States Constitution.
“…They were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir … It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
The march further propelled the Civil Rights Movement and symbolized the power of unity. However, over 50 years later, some may wonder just how long people can remember such history lessons. “I think it had an impact for a long time, then it slowly disintegrated … and people changed,” said Vivian.
As active members of the community, Vivian and her late husband, Ray, saw those changes. Both attended Howard University and owned a pharmaceutical store in Southeast for 27 years. Vivian was a member of the Democratic Women’s Club and was one of 25 members invited to the White House for tea by former first lady Hillary Clinton. She also belonged to the same Crestwood garden club as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s granddaughter, Anna Roosevelt Seagraves. The two were no strangers to American politics, and Vivian would succeed her husband in seeing them drastically change.
Ray passed away in 2014, the year Vivian moved to Riderwood. Considering the similarities between today’s political clashes and those of 1963, Vivian says that she doesn’t want to see anymore destruction. “I hope that people can get together better, even here [at Riderwood].”
Many Riderwood residents echo that same sentiment and were present at the March on Washington in 1963. For the 55th anniversary of the march, the Riderwood Reporter and Riderwood TV are calling for residents to submit notable stories for a special article and television program in 2018.