Early, on the morning of June the 22nd, 1972, while standing in the sanctuary of the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, just two blocks east of our nation’s Capitol, amidst a noisy throng of mostly women and children, suddenly, with some force, a woman’s body pressed up against me. As I turned to face her, feeling the warmth of her breath upon my face, I instantly recognized her.
It was Candice Bergen. Only six months earlier I had watched her on the big screen playing Susan opposite Art Garfunkel and Jack Nicholson in the controversial film, Carnal Knowledge.
George and I had left Nashville only twenty-four hours earlier. We had not had a wink of sleep. It was, literally, a miracle that we were standing there at all, unscathed and alive.
Three days before, on June the 19th Agnes came a shore along the Florida panhandle as a category one hurricane. Moving northeastward, it weakened considerably over Georgia. As it did, my friend and neighbor, George Walker, a freelanced photographer for a number of national news publications, suggested that we drive to Washington, D.C., to cover what was later to be known as the women’s and children’s “Ring Around Congress.”
Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, after we were well on our way, Agnes began to regained strength and intensity along the eastern coast of North Carolina, ravaging the mid-Atlantic region as a tropical storm, killing 129 people and destroying $1.7 billion in goods and property. The worst damage occurred along a path from Virginia through Maryland and Pennsylvania to the Finger Lakes region of New York, when Agnes combined with a non-tropical low to produce widespread rainfall and severe flooding.
By the time we reach central Virginia, the rainfall had become extremely intense. Many rivers and streams were overflowing their banks. Eventually, around 9 o’clock that night, we were forced by local authorities to hold-up in the community center of a small town just west of D.C. The once placid stream on the outskirts of the town had become a raging river, rising several feet above the bridge that crossed it.
The next morning after the rains had stopped, we drove out to the bridge to survey the situation. We soon found ourselves stuck between two large eighteen-wheelers whose drivers had obviously decided to attempt the crossing. Fortunately, my little Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, literally, was suck across the bridge by the wake of the truck in front of us. To this day, I still believe that if it were not for George’s size (six-feet-four-inches) and weight (nearly 300 pounds), we would have easily been swept away with the river’s excessive current.
When we finally arrived in D.C. we went straight to St. Marks where the women activists and their children were to gather before marching to the Capitol. George gravitated towards a small group of photo journalists clustered in the middle of the church’s sanctuary. On a raised platform at one end of the church stood Joan Baez, the event’s coordinator, her mother and her sister, Mimi.
I would later learn from Joan that the demonstration had been nearly cancelled, due in part to the weather which had prevented hundreds and thousands of women and children from arriving either by plane, train, or automobile.
I also learned that Marion Barry, Washington’s mayor, and a small group of the city’s Black leaders for some unknown reason, had been trying for weeks to sabotage the march and prevent it from happening. It was later reported that the Nixon administration might have pressured the mayor and other black leaders to use their influence to prevent the march from occurring.
If it were not for the weather and a series of peculiar and mysterious disruptions this symbolic act of solidarity with the women and children of Vietnam may have been one of the largest demonstrations Washington had ever witnessed. Unfortunately, in the end, there were no more than 2500 to 3000 women and children who joined hands that day to circle the Capitol and Congress.
Despite the fact that every Black leader in the country, including Coretta King, and many White liberal activists decided to stay home that day, due to the flood and/or pressure from Washington’s Black leadership, the demonstration was held. And, was covered by all three networks, numerous newspapers and publications including Time, Newsweek and the Associated Press.
“What!” George loudly retorted.
“Candice Bergen is standing right beside me,” I quietly whispered, again.
“Speak up, Dee! I can’t hear you.”
After softly repeating myself for the third time, “Candice Bergen is standing right beside me,” George shouts, loud enough for the entire assembled throng to hear:
“Who in the fuck is Candice Bergen?"