August 28, 1963
As a student in college, she witnessed her black roommate suffering “terrible indignities” because of the color of her skin. She remembers her friend being turned away from restaurants and even denied housing.
“I just felt so bad,” she said. “We shed tears.”
She heard about the August 28 March on Washington. It was 1963. She had recently married.
Although white, Molly Esseks wanted to support her friend, all the people of color who had suffered injustices.
Her husband didn’t think it was a good idea.
“I was terrified,” Dick Esseks said. “Here was this lovely girl I had just married, and I didn’t want her to be shot. There had been deaths in the South.”
Molly replied, “you know, you get to the point that I didn’t think I could have any self-respect if I didn’t stand up for what I believed.”
Dick countered, “They don’t need you!”
Molly replied back, “Yes, they do need me. I’m just the person that they need, I’m a peace-loving, quiet person, and I stand up for what I believe, I can’t let other people stand up for me anymore.”
Dick, remembering the church services he attended which essentially said women should obey their husband, put his foot down and said, “I forbid you to go!”
Molly just looked at him.
“This is why I was afraid of getting married,” Molly said. “I don’t want some man telling me what I can and can’t do. I am going. You don’t have to go if you’re afraid, I understand, but I have to go.”
That was it, Dick had enough, he decided if his wife was determined to go, even alone, he would join her.
They never regretted it. Dick respected Molly for standing up for what she believed in, and they both realized just how much they both loved each other.
The Esseks were interviewed by the New York Times in a 50th anniversary reflection called, “Witnesses to History.” The Peace Page earlier this month shared a part of the series, memories around the reflecting pool.
Fifty years later, in 2013, the couple was still married, at that time in their 70s, and, their little community was holding a march of their own to celebrate the March on Washington 50 years before.
This time, there was no argument, the couple went together with no hesitation.
Although the event in their community was much smaller, it was still important to them, with community leaders reflecting on what still needs to be done to achieve the dream and what Dr. King would think of where we are today.
One of the speakers said at their local event, “Everybody is proud for the places we’ve got to in the last 50 years, but we know that work is not done. There are many Americans . . . who haven’t realized the dream, and we are all going to join and work together so we can reach that goal.”
When Molly Esseks was interviewed at their local event, she said, remembering that day 50 years ago, they had been married for only two months when she came home with an idea she got off a flier — she wanted to march in Washington.
The march would give her an opportunity “to stand up and say it’s not right to treat people badly because they are born with a different color skin,” she said.
She admitted, however, that when she and her husband arrived at the event, seeing the large crowd and the police, she wondered to herself: “What is this thing I’ve got us into?”
But when they entered the crowd, the environment was friendly. Soon, they were joining hands with others, singing “We Shall Overcome.”
When other in the crowd thanked Molly and her husband for attending, she would reply, “Well of course we’re here. It was the right thing to do.”
The March, of course, was not only one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history, but also one of the most peaceful marches ever for its magnitude, a day not only remembered for Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech advocating racial harmony, but also because of the racial harmony exhibited at the march itself, where peaceful people of all colors joined together.
“It was a sea of humanity!” Molly said.
Molly remembers, “I was happy that there were so many people witnessing this message [and Dr. King’s Dream] that just had to get through.”
Dr. King had said, “This is our hope . . . [that] we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
“And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”
Molly remembers how happy she was that she and her husband were there together, hearing Dr. King, being there with like-minded, peaceful people, witnessing this event as well.
Dick would say, “I realized that Molly had done the right thing.”