My Omen That The March On Washington, DC Would Be A Success
By John E. Hansan, Ph.D.
In August 1963, I was a member of the Cincinnati Committee for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, serving in my role as Chairman of the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. Our committee had recruited a contingent of 500 supporters from the Cincinnati, Ohio area who paid their own fares for a two-night round trip train ride to Washington, D.C. to support enactment of civil rights legislation.
In the weeks leading up to the March, there was considerable anxiety about the physical safety of the March participants, e.g., a large presence of police and National Guard troops were to be deployed. To counter the notion that this was a dangerous event, my social work colleagues and I agreed in advance to wear white dress shirts with a tie when we marched in DC. We boarded the train in Cincinnati late afternoon on August 27 and traveled all night sitting up, arriving in DC on the morning of August 28. As we neared DC’s Union Station, the lavatories on the train were very crowded as passengers washed, shaved, changed clothes, etc., in preparation for disembarking and assembling in our designated area.
Since the lines for the lavatories were so long, I decided it made more sense to use the Men’s Room at Union Station to shave and change into a clean white shirt. From previous trips to DC I knew there were pay toilets (25 cents) and larger changing rooms for 50 cents. Certain that I had the necessary change to rent a changing room, I dashed ahead to the Men’s Room and located an empty changing room. When I tried to insert my two quarters in the slot, I discovered it was “taped up” leaving me no way to insert my quarters. My first reaction was that the attendant, who happened to be Black, was using this very special event with its large crowd of out-of-town visitors to “knock down” a few extra dollars.
Going along with what I thought was his “entrepreneurial” spirit I approached the attendant and offered him the two quarters I planned to use for a changing room. To my embarrassment, he refused the money, and said something to the effect: “…Today, these toilets and changing rooms can be used free.” The actions of this men’s room attendant was for me a good omen for a very successful March on Washington – and it was!!!