Jay Mardo was 82 years old in 1963 and living in Dayton, Ohio. It was the summer of the big march to our nation's capital to demand civil rights for all and Mr. Mardo was determined to be a part of it, to add his voice, his being and presence to the cause. Rolling out his silver bicycle with an American flag attached to the handlebars, Mr. Mardo made his way for 471 miles, all the way to Philadelphia. It being August, I think we can imagine that it was hot, probably humid, maybe even downright wet; at 82 years of age, Mr. Mardo's pace was probably not too quick. At the City of Brotherly Love, the Walt Whitman bridge blocked Mardo's further progress. Connecting Philadelphia to New Jersey, the Whitman bridge was the only one going toward the capital, and bicycles were not permitted on the Walt Whitman bridge in 1963 (nor, apparently are they to this day). Undeterred in his determination to reach Washington D.C., Mardo did the only thing he could, he rode onto the bridge. The police picked him up, but then contacted the NAACP, Quaker city chapter, whose representatives, Cecil B. Moore and Phillip Savage met Mardo at the bridge. Describing the rider as "in excellent health", and "dressed casually for his bicycle adventure", the two put him up at a local hotel for the night, and then arranged a bus ride the next day, so that he could finish his journey.
Jay Mardo's story ends at this point, or at least any documentation of it does. We are left to assume that he was able to complete his mission, even if not quite the way he intended, that his voice rose along with all the others and helped lead to, what turned into, a moment counted among the most fundamental in the history of human rights. But, I wonder what happened to that silver bicycle with the American flag?
This story of Jay Mardo originally appeared in the Dayton Daily News, August 27, 1963, and was reprinted this year, for the 50th Anniversary.