This Week on American Black Journal:
Faith-fueled unity: The Black church’s role in the 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom
The 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom was a major milestone in the civil rights movement. Organized by prominent religious and civil rights leaders Rev. C.L. Franklin and Rev. Albert Cleage, Jr., and featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the march brought together more than 125,000 people on Woodward Avenue to peacefully advocate for racial equality and justice in what was the largest civil rights demonstration at the time.
As the city commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Detroit Walk to Freedom, American Black Journal’s “Black Church in Detroit” series examines the role of the city’s religious community in the historic march and rally that featured Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Host Stephen Henderson and guest, Bishop Mbiyu Chui of the Shrine of the Black Madonna #1, delve into the often-forgotten connection between the city’s Black churches and the massive march for civil rights. Bishop Chui relates the backstory about how racism and violence against Blacks in the South led to the organization of the walk by the Shrine’s founder, Rev. Albert Cleage, Jr. and Rev. C.L. Franklin of New Bethel Baptist Church.
Plus, they talk about the many voices represented in the Detroit civil rights demonstration, the Black Church’s role as a moral compass for America, and the challenges that remain today — 60 years after the Walk to Freedom.
From attendee to activist: Rev. Dr. JoAnn Watson’s life changed after the 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom
Rev. Dr. JoAnn Watson, senior pastor of West Side Unity Church in Detroit, was 12 years old when her grandparents picked her up on a summer afternoon in June 1963. Little did she know that day she would find her passion for activism and purpose in life.
Her grandparents took her to the 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom, the largest civil rights demonstration up to that point with 125,000 people attending, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King gave an early version of his “I Have a Dream” speech there before his famous national address two months later in Washington, D.C.
Reflecting on her experiences at the 1963 march and her career in public service, Rev. Watson shares her memories from that historic day and its impact on her life trajectory with One Detroit contributor Cecelia Sharpe of 90.9 WRCJ. Plus, they talk about Rev. Watson’s influence on the Melody American Girl doll and how people can commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Detroit Walk to Freedom.