The People’s March
On May 18, 1968, the civil rights movement arrived on campus in a very public manner. About six weeks after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, The Poor People’s March on Washington took place, under the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The plan was to start in Mississippi, move through the southern states to Washington, and there construct a “Resurrection City” in which to live and lobby for equal rights. About 450 participants in the Poor People’s March were due to arrive in Richmond for the next-to-last stop on the pilgrimage.
A week before the arrival of the marchers, the institutions then part of the Richmond Theological Center (Union Theological Seminary, PSCE and the School of Theology at Virginia Union University), plus various private individuals, offered to provide food and overnight accommodations for them. Dr. Kraemer called the PSCE faculty and staff together and announced that he planned to open all facilities of the school to serve the marchers. Helpers made every bed on campus, and supplies were donated by businesses, churches, and individuals. More than 250 women volunteers prepared five-pound meat loaves, butterbeans, rolls, gravy, cake, fresh fruit, milk, tea and coffee. A nurses’ station and portable toilets were set up on the grounds.49 Meanwhile, Dr. Kraemer was being criticized for not asking permission of the Board of Trustees to host the marchers and others were threatening to cut off funding for the school.
At 4:00 pm on June 18, the marchers moved down Brook Road, led by a mounted police patrol. Police protection was everywhere, as pickup trucks with Confederate flags circled the campus. Church choirs sang all evening and on Sunday morning worship services were held.
Professor Bannerman recalls: “One image is stuck in my brain. As I went into the dormitory to check on things, I saw a mother and two little children kneeling by the bed, and she prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, thank you for a room with clean sheets and a clean place for us to lay our heads this night.’ We did what we had to do! This community is more than bricks and mortar on Brook Road. As Jesus said, ‘As you have ministered unto the least of these, you have ministered unto me.’”50
49. McComb, 84-87.
50. Bannerman correspondence, June 26, 2018.