The spirit of last week’s national March on Washington continued locally on Saturday as Darby Township joined with Sharon Hill and Darby boroughs to hold a March of Dreams in Sharon Hill’s Memorial Park. The event celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation; and revisited memories of a not-so-racially-tolerant Delaware County while also touting the positive strides made in an increasingly diverse community.
Although considered more of a community event than a political one, the event was the brainchild of the Sharon Hill Democratic Party, in an attempt to unify the areas and educate residents.
Among the small crowd attending included prominent Democratic political figures. The celebration itself was an exercise in unity as Democratic organizers initially accused Republican borough officials of refusing to issue permits for the gathering and threatened to go to court. After misunderstood descriptions of the event were clarified, court action was averted and permits were issued.
A sobering display of photos from the infamous “Baker Incident” in Folcroft formed a backdrop for the event. In that situation, two days after the 1963 March on Washington, thousands of white residents violently protested against a Black family, the Bakers, moving into the neighborhood.
Also displayed, was the struggle of Krista Devonshire and her family in Norwood, who were recently racially intimidated by anonymous letters from neighbors telling them to leave and “Go to Chester.”
Several residents told a reporter about life here 50 years ago when gatherings such as this one were unheard of and African-American residents were not free to even walk through many communities without fear of intimidation. Still, all agreed the county has come a long way.
Organizer Steve Travers said, “I really want people to walk away from here understanding that we still have so much work to do. We’ve got to continue to fight on to do the right thing in these communities. Hopefully, working together with Sharon Hill and Darby and Darby Township, we will continue to move forward and do these things more often and, hopefully, on a yearly basis, we’ll get together and talk about the things we need to talk about.”
The afternoon was steamy but the event was attended by local officials and clergy including Fr. James Corley, of Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Darby; state representatives Maria Donatucci (D-185) and Ron Waters (D-191); Pastor Raymond Merriweather, of the First Baptist of Darby; Sharon Hill Councilwoman Helen Brown and Pastor Keith Collins, of Trainer’s Church of the Overcomer.
Also, Delaware County Democratic Party Chairman David Landau and county controller candidate David Boonin spoke to express their positions about “The Dream” and what they believed needed to be done in the name of continuing change. The gazebo in the middle of the park was also the stage for Bethel Gospel Tabernacle Church’s choir that offered spiritual selections.
Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Brenda M. Alston, and Darby Borough Councilwoman Esther Lites, manned tables set up to register voters and Pat Stringer, a former Harrisburg city councilwoman, who was “fired up” from attending the 2013 national celebration in Washington, registered voters.
“It’s very important for everybody to get registered to vote, because your vote is really your voice,” she said. About the Sharon Hill event, she said, “It’s a perfect location to bring the community and the family together. Dr. King wasn’t just for a particular race; he was for a people no matter what your race was, working together for the betterment of your community.”
Dr. Richard A. Jones, Bethel Gospel’s pastor, also spoke. “I thought it was wonderful,” he said of the event, “It was much needed. We should carry this stuff on and on and on (and) learn from all the giants of Civil Rights from the past and continue the work, because the work is not over.”