CARBONDALE — On Friday evening, the Southern Illinois Unity Coalition, along with other community organizations, held a demonstration in Carbondale to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.
Nancy Maxwell, one of the march organizers from Marion, said people have to keep the social justice movement going and help Southern Illinois get past its issues with racism. “We’re still struggling to make the dream come true,” she said “We’re still searching for civil and economic freedom.”
Maxwell said the recent events in Kenosha, Wisconsin demonstrated there are still issues to work through in the United States. Jacob Blake, a Black man was shot in the back by a white police officer seven times when they responded to a call. Later during subsequent demonstrations, a 17-year-old juvenile from Antioch traveled to Kenosha with a long-gun in hand and shot three people — killing two.
“Just because it hasn’t happened here, or it hasn’t been reported that it’s happened here, doesn’t mean it won’t,” Maxwell said. “We need to get inoculated for the disease called racism that lives everywhere in the United States.”
Emerald Avril McGowen, a demonstrator from Carbondale who is a member of the Southern Illinois Unity Coalition, said they want to unite and change the energy in Southern Illinois. She said it is important to continue having events like the commemorative march to continue informing the community about that part of history.
“The history books only touch on some things and people (…) don’t dig in deeper into history,” she said. “If we can reach them by a well-known historic event, then we can keep reaching them with lesser known events and keep raising our voices against systemic racism.”
Catherine Mitchell, who is originally from Chicago, said she is demonstrating because of her sons, who she is “really worried about,” and to commemorate the March on Washington. Mitchell said she was a young girl when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and remembers the emotions surrounding the event.
“I remember the sadness in the community when that happened,” Mitchell said. “I hope this (march) brings awareness to our town because there’s a lot of injustice and a lot of racism here. I wanted everyone to come together and believe in one another.”
The commemorative event featured multiple speakers, the march, singers, poetry and a tribute to former U.S. Rep. John Lewis, civil rights icon C.T. Vivian, political activist Emma Sanders and Genevieve Hughes Houghton — one of three women participants in the original 13-person Congress of Racial Equality Freedom Rides. She was one of the co-founders and first directors of Carbondale’s Women's Center, one of the first shelters for women victims of domestic violence in the country.