“Pittsfield couple to attend 50th anniversary of March on Washington”

By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Posted:   08/23/2013 12:09:17 AM EDT

Don and Marion Lathrop are headed to the March on Washington anniversary this weekend. The Canaan, N.Y., couple also attended the first one in 1963. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

PITTSFIELD — Donald and Marion Lathrop are veteran marchers for a number of causes, but they judge the March on Washington in August 1963 as their most unforgettable experience.

On Saturday, they plan to return to the National Mall, where they listened to Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, to take part in events marking the 50th anniversary of the seminal march.

“We have never had a day like that one, and I am almost 80 and have had a lot of experiences,” Don said.

“The authorities didn’t expect that it could be peaceful,” Marion said. “But it was just a day of love.”

The expected 100,000 marchers on Aug. 28, 1963, grew to an estimated 250,000 participants, who filled the mall around the nation’s most important monuments.

Other than the famous speech by King from the Lincoln Memorial, many civil rights and labor leaders spoke, and the list of singers included Marian Anderson, Mahalia Jackson, Odetta, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary.

“That was the first one we went to,” said Don Lathrop, a retired Berkshire Community College professor. He and Marion, of Canaan, N.Y., were then in their 20s. They’ve attended many other events over the years, in Washington, New York and elsewhere, focusing on civil rights, war, justice and environmental issues.

The 1963 march, the Lathrops said, realized efforts dating to the 1940s to hold a large-scale event to dramatically protest racial discrimination and bias in the workplace. It formally was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and was organized by civil rights, religious and labor organizations.

The march followed sit-ins and other demonstrations for civil rights over the previous decade, and 1963 marked the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln.

It not only served as a model for large protests against the Vietnam War and over other issues, but the event was credited with helping passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

True to their roots, the Lathrops plan to travel down by bus — leaving at midnight Friday and returning Saturday night. They are joining a group organized by a religious organization in Schenectady, N.Y.

Two eight-hour-plus trips in one day can be an ordeal, Don said, adding, “If you’re lucky you can sleep.” But at 6-foot-1, he’s often found bus seats too cramped for slumber.

Their trip in 1963 included bus trouble both down and back, the couple said, but nothing could dull the inspiration they felt. The event ended with Baez leading the singing of “We Shall Overcome” and a call for everyone to work toward racial equality when they returned home.

Excitement began to surge on the way to Washington, Marion said. “It was incredible going down the New Jersey Turnpike and seeing bus after bus,” she said. “It was really building.”

There were so many buses coming down New York Avenue to the bus terminal in Washington, Don said, they had to be sent in groups of six buses at a time to allow unloading.

The longtime members of the Berkshire Chapter of the NAACP said the event on Saturday, which is expected to draw 100,000 participants, “is just the right thing to do. This will be issue-oriented, too,” Don said. It’s not only a celebration.”

The issues today are different, they said. While discrimination is not as open as in that era, Don said, the death of Trayvon Martin, a court ruling on police “stop and frisk” methods, affirmative action, and many related issues are in the news today — along with the struggles of the poor and working class, war and climate change.

The Lathrops, who’ve traveled in all 50 states and many other countries, often observing the results of discrimination — as in the South for two months in 1964 — and of war, such as in Japan, also have regularly attended protest events at Park Square and other local sites.

They were at Park Square again Thursday, carrying signs, for a weekly vigil.

To reach Jim Therrien:,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_therrien





“Community discusses ways to reduce violence at Berkshire Community College forum”

By Adam Poulisse, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Posted:   03/01/2013 12:11:16 AM EST

Updated:   03/01/2013 10:38:48 AM EST

PITTSFIELD — Ten community leaders started the conversation about all facets of violence in the Berkshires on Thursday night, but it was more than 70 county residents who kept it going.

The event, Reducing Violence in Berkshire County, addressed myriad topics relating to violence — from animal abuse, to bullying in the school hallways and the court process — and later led to small-group discussions at Berkshire Community College.

It was sponsored by BCC’s Global Issues Resource Organization and Berkshire Citizens for Peace and Justice, a group that holds weekly peace demonstrations in Park Square in downtown Pittsfield.

“There are causes of violence, and ways to try to deal with preventing it,” said Don Lathrop, a professor emeritus at the college and a member of the citizens group. Many of the signs that group members use at their demonstrations were hanging throughout the BCC cafeteria, where the forum was held.

Marion Lathrop, another member of group, gave 10 representatives from local organizations 5 minutes each to speak about their topics on violence before breaking into groups. Representatives came from the Pittsfield Police Department, the Brien Center, Human/Animal Violence Education Network, the Elizabeth Freeman Center, Alternatives to Violence Project, Help Increase the Peace Population and the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office.

“I’m blown away by all the resources we have up here,” Marion Lathrop said.

In his presentation, District Attorney David Capeless showed statistics that indicate a marked increase in domestic violence in the county over the past 11 years, but a decline in other crimes — a result he attributed to people spending less time out and about, and an increase in people reporting crimes.

“It’s not just somebody else’s problem,” Capeless said before his presentation. “It’s a community problem. It’s a social problem.”

After the panel and topics for the night were introduced, most of the attendees broke off into groups for each of the topics relating to violence — youth, animal abuse, guns, domestic violence, street violence, prevention and alternatives, mental health and drugs, due process and prison programs. The groups exchanged ideas, experiences and insight into their respective topics.

Police Chief Michael Wynn’s discussion on street violence, and the Brien Center’s discussion on mental health and drugs, were the two most popular groups attended, each seeing about a half-dozen attendees.

The topic of using medication to treat mental illnesses led to a “spirited discussion,” said Brien Center CEO Chris Macbeth.

“Amongst the group, there were varying perspectives,” she said. “I think we ultimately agreed that in some instances it can certainly help. In other instances, it may be used short-term as part of a larger treatment.”

Chief Wynn’s group talked about gangs, drugs and violence in Pittsfield, specifically on North Street.

“The whole perception is that sometimes people think it’s not a safe community, but it is a safe community,” said Ed Burniske, one of the participants in Wynn’s group. “Pittsfield is doing a great job.”

To reach Adam Poulisse:,
or (413) 496-6214.
On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse


“Berkshire Group Organizes Violence Reduction Forum”

Feb 25, 2013

By Lucas Willard, Berkshire Bureau Chief, WAMC Northeast Public Radio

A group of concerned citizens is organizing an event this week to address the subject of reducing violent crime in Berkshire County.

The group called Berkshire Citizens for Peace and Justice this week is organizing a meeting involving area residents, professionals, and public safety officials to discuss a wide variety of topics related to school and community violence.

Event organizer Don Lathrop said he has long considered the need for a way for community members to come together and discuss issues of violence he has witnessed in Pittsfield and the surrounding cities and towns.

Lathrop said that news of recent mass shootings including the December attack on students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut did serve as one motivational factor to hold the meeting.

Brian Trautman, another organizer for the event and member of BCP&J, said that frequent news in local media about a variety of violent crime including shootings and robberies in Berkshire County served to motivate the group to sponsor the gathering.

Berkshire County District Attorney David Capeless told WAMC that although he has seen a reduction in crime in Berkshire County through his office over the past six years, community violence remains a serious issue.

Capeless will present at the meeting about work his office has done in the community to reduce violence. But he added that violence remains a societal issue, and that it takes the will of an entire community to set an example for the next generation in order to reduce crime.

Speakers at the event will also include public safety officials including Pittsfield Chief of Police Michael Wynn and Pittsfield safety officer Michael Ortega. Ortega will speak about youth issues including school bullying and the local DARE program. A representative from the non-profit Elizabeth Freeman Center is scheduled to discuss ways the organization works to reduce and make awareness of domestic violence. Staff from the Pittsfield-based Brien Center will discuss issues of drug abuse and its link to crime. Presenters will also focus on animal cruelty, as well as other issues.

After the presentations, attendees will participate in small group discussions.

Brian Trautman added that he hopes the gathering will help establish a community platform for future efforts.

The gathering is free and open to the public, and will be held at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield on Thursday, February 28th at 7 p.m. in the Susan B. Anthony student center.

Any questions about this event should be addressed to Don Lathrop at or at 413-236-4618.


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