Essential Pittsburgh
4:40 pm
Tue August 27, 2013

A Moment Of Peaceful Integration in 1963

Thousands gathering peacefully at the reflecting pool in Washington DC
Thousands gathering peacefully at the reflecting pool in Washington DC
Credit US Marines / Wikipedia

Greensburg native, William Severini Kowinski was 17 years old when he participated in the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom on August 28th, 1963. He had been campaigning for John F. Kennedy since the age of 15 and was inspired by Kennedy’s views on the civil rights struggle.

Kowinski went by train with a group called the Catholic Interracial Council. It was only his second train ride and his most vivid memory of the ride involved a train car packed with young people.

“There were kids sitting in the luggage racks above the seats. And they were all singing.”

In recent years, file footage has been posted on Youtube, which includes a glimpse of 17 year old Kowinski getting off the train in Washington. He says despite the sweltering heat of that day, he wore a jacket, dress shirt and tie, as many young men did at the time.

William Severini Kowinski can be seen at approximately 11:30, on the far right of the frame.

While marching, Kowinski says at first people were vigilant and alert to potential trouble, but as he marched he was struck by the overall peaceful atmosphere of the growing crowd.

“You just looked in people’s faces and everybody just had the same sort of expression of awe at what was going on.”

When the march ended, Kowinski says he remembers the press looking at the march as a nice event, but they expect the civil rights legislation being promoted that day, to be a failure. By 1964, the landmark Civil Rights Act was passed.