As Washington Remembers, West Chester has Special Pride Over 1963 March

A West Chester native was the man behind the "I Have a Dream" speech March in 1963.

Dr. Martin Luther King with West Chester's Bayard Rustin at the 1963 March on Washington. (Photo from Chester County Historical Society display)
Dr. Martin Luther King with West Chester's Bayard Rustin at the 1963 March on Washington. (Photo from Chester County Historical Society display)

As thousands of people paid homage to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech Wednesday, the Borough of West Chester has a special pride about the 1963 event which was organized by West Chester Native son Bayard Rustin.

Mayor Carolyn Comitta and members of the Borough Council paid tribute to the West Chester born and raised civil rights leader who organized the 1963 March with a special ceremony before last week's Borough Council meeting. Last week's ceremony centered around Rustin being posthumously awarded the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

The WCASD's newest school was named after Rustin in 2006.  Among the speakers at the Borough Council event was West Chester Area School District Superintendent Dr. Jim Scanlon. 

“His work  represents the work that’s happening at Rustin and all of our schools in the district. Our goal is to inspire our students to achieve their personal best and that’s what he wanted everybody to do.,”  Scanlon told Borough Council members during the ceremony.

“Equal rights, equal access to all. Students didn’t always have equal access, particularly students of color, equal access to some of the particularly upper level courses.” Scanlon says the WCASD has been recognized especially in recent years for getting more underprivileged students into upper level courses and getting more students to pass Advanced placement courses.

Scanlon credited current efforts to educate minority students  to “the work done by Bayard Rustin and civil right leaders of the 50’s, 60’s,70’s and 80’s as well.  We’re proud that our high school is named after Bayard Rustin.”

Rustin High (rising) senior Savannah Dysard  talked about the spirit of the school’s student body which is inspired by the high school’s namesake. “We embody diversity and acceptance just as Bayard Rustin did,” Bayard told the gathering.

James Trotman, West Chester University Emeritus and Founder of the  WCU Frederick Douglas Institute said Rustin was a mentor to Dr. King  and had a great influence on the famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  Trotman says Rustin was responsible for the logistics and the detail work that went into the march, the speeches and making sure the area was left spotless after the event ended.

For those interested learning more about the life and work of Bayard Rustin, West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta suggests:

PBS' "Brother Outsider," the award-winning feature-length documentary on Bayard's life and work.  The film is scheduled to air on the America ReFramed series on public television's World Channel on August 28th at 7 pm and again at midnight (check local listings at http://worldchannel.org/programs/america-reframed/). 

The film will also be available in streaming format on August 28th and 29th.  Additional screenings are being planned in communities around the country and abroad, including Boston's Kennedy Library on August 28th; filmmaker Nancy Kates will participate in that event which is free and open to the public. 


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