Witness to history
He was working as a teacher and she was working as a nurse, and still the ends wouldn’t meet. After World War II, three kids at home in the San Luis Valley, and Muzz and Marjorie Ebright were going broke — inadvertent members of the working poor.
Finally, the family piled into a 1936 Chevy and drove to Marjorie’s hometown of Detroit, getting there with just $5 to spare.
Perhaps that, then, is where Muzz Ebright’s heart for economic and social equality began growing: “I know what it’s like to be poor,” he said. “And unfortunately, a lot of people in this country who are poor are minorities.”
So, when Ebright, a Grand Junction resident, began reading and hearing about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and discussing the man’s work with his friend Paul Hayama, the message made sense. And when they read in the newspaper about an Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington, they decided to go.
With the blessing of his wife, who would join him several years later in Washington D.C. to protest the inauguration of Richard Nixon, Ebright, 90, boarded a train from Troy, Mich., to Washington, D.C. with his friend Paul. Together, with a gathering estimated at between 200,000 and 300,000, they marched from near the U.S. Capitol and along the National Mall to join the throng at the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
“We were interested in trying to further (King’s) work,” explained Ebright, an ordained Episcopal minister. “When we heard there was going to be a march with Martin Luther King, we both said we’ve got to be there.”
A lot about that day is lost to the passing of intervening decades, but Ebright said he does remember joining the growing crowd like streams feeding a river. And he remembers seeing an old Pontiac convertible driving slowly toward the marchers on a cross street and then stopping, and its driver getting up to sit on the back of the seat and watch the march. It was Bobby Kennedy, Ebright said.
The marchers hadn’t gone very far, he remembered, “before we were all singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Everyone was pretty hyped-up emotionally, and to hear a quarter-million like-minded people sing together is impressive.”
Ebright said he was too far from the Lincoln Memorial to hear much of King’s speech, but the feeling of the crowd seemed to convey its sentiments: “It was a culmination of those feelings for equality and justice,” he said. “Finally we were doing something about it.”
Those feelings were mirrored Wednesday afternoon, when a group of about a dozen met at Fourth and Main streets to read King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and ring small bells, a reference to King’s “let freedom ring.”
“We just wanted to stand with the community and show our support,” said Lou Mbala, president of the Colorado Mesa University Black Student Alliance, who read the last portion of King’s speech.
“We are standing today in solidarity,” said the Rev. Nature Johnson, one of the Wednesday event’s organizers. “The dream is alive.”