King's speech: 'A Moses parting the Red Sea moment'

Yahoo Contributor Network

Editor’s note: Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Yahoo News is profiling activists who were instrumental in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Andrew Marrisett, of Birmingham, Ala., was 27 on Aug. 28, 1963. Months earlier, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference hired him as a full-time staffer in Alabama to organize voting-rights campaigns and instruct others to demonstrate non-violently. He helped register 9,000 new voters in Alabama over 60 days and later was part of an effort to register more than 250,000 new voters in Texas.

Here’s what he remembers about Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, as told to Yahoo News:

I was [in Birmingham] on Aug. 28 and watched the speech at the A.G. Gaston motel in a downstairs room that we’d meet and strategize in. We sat and watched it, but mostly we were working. We had a job to do. After Dr. King spoke, we were back in the field again doing our work and talking to people and going to houses.

[The speech] was momentous. It was a Moses parting the Red Sea moment. It was Gandhi walking down to get the salt moment. It was a Christ in salvation moment. It was that type of moment.

There was a part in the middle in which he talked about not stooping to their level. And the parts about dreaming about little black children and little white children holding hands and being equal -- that’s what would make your hair stand up on the back of your neck.

In essence, he was saying now is the time for America to live up to its creed and to the constitution that all men are created equal and endowed with those unalienable rights.

The powers that be didn’t appreciate it. And now 50 years later, I see the same things happening now that were happening then, that were happening during Jim Crow. They’re trying to undo what’s been done. We need to put more boots in the street. Now the Supreme Court went crazy and stuck down Section 5 of Voting Rights Act. And North Carolina is going insane and striking down voting laws. And if you know anything about Alabama, I don’t have to say anything. They are trying to push us back into the 1900s.

So now my goal is to encourage everyone to vote -- not whom to vote for -- but to vote. I’m a doer. I’m a soldier. I’m a brave. I like being a private so I can get out there and do the thrust of the work.