A Special Musical Tribute at CenterStage
Last year, stuff Richmond and Petersburg were abuzz with movie mania. While Spielberg rolled into Maymont in horse and buggy, the hottest topic around town was sighting the star-studded “Lincoln” cast. It was especially exciting to see two Virginia cities as filming locations, a nod to the areas’ rich roots in Civil War-era historical events.
“I saw Lincoln twice, and I will see it again,” said Senator Henry L. Marsh III, public leader, supporter of progress, and chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission. “It was a pivotal moment in our history and, had it not turned out that way, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Now we celebrate the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation – so close to where this action unfolded exactly 150 years ago. This adds even more meaning and social relevancy to the 2012 film about the struggles of our sixteenth president.
To observe this special occasion, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission has partnered with the Richmond Symphony to present “A Musical Tribute to Commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation” on Saturday, April 13, at 8 p.m.
“This musical tribute is a real feat we are pulling off with the Richmond Symphony,” said Senator Marsh. “It represents the historical and social significance of signing the Emancipation Proclamation with music from that period, full symphony and chorus. It’s going to be magnificent. And, it’s free. It cost more than $100,000 to present this performance, and we raised it all ourselves.”
So, why put together such a feat for free? Senator Marsh explained, “We want everyone to be able to come. We aren’t going to discriminate against low-income families. All citizens have an equal chance to attend.”
Sen. Marsh has a long-standing history of service to the Richmond community. Of note, he has testified before Congress for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Of his career accomplishments, Sen. Marsh humbly answered, “A lot has been said about the duration of my service, but I’m more proud of the quality of my service. I honestly believe that all people have equal dignity under the law, and I’ve fought to make sure that we make the Constitution meaningful for every citizen regardless of status, color, or creed.”
Democrat Henry Marsh III was born in Richmond in 1933, attended Maggie Walker High School, earned his bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University, and holds a law degree from Howard University. He has been active in Virginia politics since battling civil rights issues as a young lawyer in the 1960s. Marsh was elected to City Council in 1966 and then became Richmond’s first African American mayor in 1977. In 1991, Marsh was elected to the Virginia Senate, where he is currently serving his third term, representing the 16th district consisting of Petersburg, Dinwiddie County, and parts of Richmond, Chesterfield, and Prince George counties.
In 1961, Marsh teamed up with Samuel L. Tucker to form Tucker & Marsh law firm. Tucker is well known for his civil rights cases, including his triumph in a big case for school integration after Brown v. Board of Education. Tucker also organized a highly publicized 1939 sit-in at the once-segregated Alexandria, Virginia public library.
Civil rights leader Oliver Hill joined the firm in 1965, forming Hill, Tucker & Marsh. Hill also fought vehemently against racial discrimination, helping to bring down the doctrine of “separate but equal” established by older precedents. He led the way to landmark victories with legal decisions for equal pay to black teachers, access to school buses, voting rights, jury selection and employment protection.
When asked about who inspired his public service, Senator Marsh replied, “Samuel Tucker taught me how to practice law and was an inspiration to me. And Oliver Hill, voted one of the greatest Virginians of the 20th century, motivated me to become a lawyer.”
But Marsh cited his father as his greatest inspiration. “My father set an example,” Marsh said. “When my mother died, he had to stop school to support our family. My brothers and sisters all completed their education, and my father returned to complete his education, received two degrees and became a minister. He was an amazing inspiration to me.”
In addition to serving as chairman of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, Marsh is co-founder of the Richmond Renaissance and the Metropolitan Economic Development Council, past president of the National Black Caucus of Elected Officials and a member of the board of directors of the National League of Cities. He established the New Millennium Leadership Institute, founded the Unity Day Celebration Committee and hosts Richmond’s Annual Juneteenth Celebration.
“The goal of this legislative commission (Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission) is to acquaint the citizens of the state with the totality of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message,” Marsh explained. “Most people think of him as a civil rights leader, but he was also an educator, theologian, visionary, peacemaker, and profit. We teach the people of Virginia how to apply Dr. King’s principles to society today.”
On September 17, 2013, commemorative plaques will be unveiled at the State Capitol, honoring African American legislators who served in Underwood Convention and General Assembly during Reconstruction. This is part of an ongoing program to celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and the ratification of the 13th Amendment, with events continuing through Oct. 2015.
“I have a history of representing the community, and it’s been a real honor for me,” said Senator Marsh.
“Chairing several committees and commissions has broadened my efforts and insights. I’m proud to be a part of the progressive leadership of Virginia – not just African American leadership but leadership, period.”
Early in his life, Marsh attended a racially segregated school. He urges people to attend the 150th Emancipation Proclamation event, which he said “has a special meaning for me, having spent a lifetime fighting massive resistance and discrimination.”
Marsh’s commitment and dedication to progress is still unwavering today. “The goal is to continuously breathe life into the 13th Amendment that people have fought and died for,” he explained. “The greatest challenge facing our community today is a lack of knowledge that results in a failure to recognize opportunities that still exist to bring about change.”
Senator Marsh’s own history of leadership sheds light on his award-winning achievements but also reminds us that commemorative events, including this Musical Tribute, acknowledge and appreciate hard-earned progress.
“I hope that everyone who can attend CenterStage on Saturday will come,” Marsh concluded. “It’s a remarkable tribute to the Emancipation Proclamation, which was signed 150 years ago, and to the 13th Amendment, ratified later that year. It’s important that we learn our history because only then will we avoid the mistakes we made in that history.”