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Mom and four kids marched 50 years ago

‘You really felt you were part of a big movement’’

Charlotte Fish brought her four children to the march.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Charlotte Fish brought her four children to the march.

The March on Washington included a diverse crowd, with up to a quarter of the participants whites from various sectors: students, faith communities, the labor and peace movements. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary sang to the crowds on the Mall.

In West Concord, 30-year-old Charlotte Fish loaded her four children into a station wagon and headed south with her mother, Ruth Sawyer. “My mother persuaded me to go, but my father and my husband tried to talk us out of it,” says Fish, now 80 and living in Gloucester.

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To no avail. With her older daughters, 8 and 10, walking with the two women, Fish pushed her 3-year-old daughter in a stroller and carried her 2-year-old son on her back.

At the time, Fish explained to the Boston Globe why she was going. “It is for all our freedoms, not just the Negroes. I feel it is the only thing I can do. By joining a larger force of people, we can make the rest of the country aware of the acute problems of segregation.”

Fish was then a member of Concord Fair Housing, president of the Concord branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and a social worker with the City Missionary Society of the Congregational Church.

“We didn’t even get our toes stepped on, and the march was amazing,” says Fish. “Everybody was feeling so uplifted. . . . You really felt you were part of a big movement.”

The family got to the Reflecting Pool at the opposite end of the Mall from the speakers, spread out a blanket, and put their feet in the water. “It was so wonderful, and we could hear all the speakers,” says Fish.

But then baby Karl had to go to the bathroom, and the lines to the portable toilets were endless. “I took him to the bushes and he relieved himself,” his mother says. “And I looked up and there was Harry Belafonte doing the same thing. We all just laughed.”

Today, Fish, a retired teacher, has eight grandchildren, four of them biracial. Her first husband, Joseph Fish, died in 1992. Ten years ago, she married Dr. Hamer Lacey, a pediatrician.

A longtime peace activist, Fish and her first husband protested the Vietnam War, and she continued protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with Lacey. Nearly every Saturday for the past 10 years, they and others have maintained a peace vigil in the Route 128 traffic circle in Gloucester.

The couple won’t be at the 50th anniversary march, except in their hearts. “Some things are better now, and some are not,” she says. “We still have a long way to go in this country.”

Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.
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