Fifty years ago, Washington DC Wednesday morning, August 28 1963 - my mother turns to me and says "Heidele, go put on your shoes. We're going downtown to do something important. Don't tell your father"
We head downtown on the bus and make our way towards the Washington Monument, there is a huge crowd below, we manage to work our way near the far left corner of the Reflecting Pool and can go no further.
There are thousands and thousands of people there, facing the Lincoln Monument, listening to sounds coming out of speakers which seem far away so it's a bit hard to hear. There is talking and singing…the men and many women around us, as dark or darker than my mother, are both serious and elated. Then a man starts to speak who has the crowd enraptured. I ask my mother is this is Moses? - somehow I got it into my head that we were at a big play, a pageant, and the women around us smile and laugh.
I can't understand much of what he is saying, but the crowd is getting more and more excited…I hear words "wa wa wa weem" and then "free" and the crowd shouts and surges and I half-topple into the Reflecting Pool.
The women shriek and help pull me out and hug me and pat me and laugh with my mother. I have never seen her this happy. I will never see her this happy again. I perhaps have never been happier than that day of our shared secret and a feeling of a moment so filled with hope and love and a sense of what I would come to know as solidarity.
Years later someone pointed out that this was my baptism. Years and years later I realized my mother was happy because she, as a dark Italian/Croatian with probable Turkish blood woman, was for one time around people whom she looked more like, with whom she felt more comfortable than the people she was around who were part of my father's world…my father who would shout at her not to get too much sun because she'd look like a N……
I was going to go down to Washington today, in honor of that day…but I hear they have fenced off the Reflecting Pool, and Obama will take the time of the speech, and thinking about it I thought perhaps continuing to hold on to the memory and how it will shape future actions was more appropriate. So I got off the bus and am back home writing this.
Some things have changed since that day. Much has not. The issue of racism, jobs, poverty, inequity, a sham of democracy in this country has not changed.
I thank and honor you, Martin Luther King and all the people who marched and participated in that day and so many days before and after and who fought, and still fight, for justice and equality and the real US/American Dream.
Mother, gone a few years later, I thank and love you.
I still have that dream.
-- Morgan Jenness, Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
About Morgan Jenness
Morgan Jenness spent over a decade at the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, with both Joseph Papp and George C. Wolfe, in various capacities ranging from literary manager to Director of Play Development to Associate Producer. She was also Associate Artistic Director at the New York Theater Workshop, and an Associate Director at the Los Angeles Theater Center in charge of new projects. She has worked as a dramaturg, workshop director, and/or artistic consultant at theaters and new play programs across the country, including the Young Playwrights Festival, the Mark Taper Forum, The Playwrights Center/Playlabs, The Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Double Image/New York Stage and Film, CSC, Victory Gardens, Hartford Stage, and Center Stage. She has participated as a visiting artist and adjunct in playwriting programs at the University of Iowa, Brown University, Breadloaf, Columbia and NYU and is currently on the adjunct faculty at Fordham University. She has served on peer panels for various funding institutions, including NYSCA and the NEA, with whom she served as a site evaluator for almost a decade. In 1998 Ms. Jenness joined Helen Merrill Ltd., an agency representing writers, directors, composers and designers, as Creative Director. She now holds a position in the Literary Department at Abrams Artists Agency. In 2003, Ms. Jenness was presented with an Obie Award Special Citation for Longtime Support of Playwrights.
Morgan Jenness has worked in various capacities from literary manager to associate producer at the Public Theater, New York Theater Workshop and LATC and as a dramaturg, workshop director, artistic consultant and teacher at theaters, play development programs and universities across the country. Formerly at Helen Merrill Ltd. she is currently creative consultant at Abrams Artists Agency.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!