Three score ago today, a quarter of a million people came by car, train, plane, and caravans of buses to attend The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Gathering before the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, they heard a slate of prominent civil rights activists perform and speak. They called on the Government to fulfill the nation’s founding promises of equality, justice, and opportunity for all. None did so more memorable than the keynote speaker who set aside his prepared remarks and began improvising after Mahalia Jackson said, “Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell’em about the dream!”
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s unscripted sermon enraptured those in attendance that day and has inspired three generations of Americans since. The March on Washington and King’s “I Have a Dream” are touchstones in the story of the Civil Right Movement by uniting organizations across the social spectrum and bridging the racial divide as evidenced by 25% of those in attendance being white. As such, they are also landmarks in allyship between groups of people, the power of bringing all people together in unity of a common cause, and arguably the genesis of intersectionality.
In fact, a chief organizer of The March was Bayard Rustin, a Black gay man often called the “lost prophet” of the Civil Rights Movement who was instrumental in crafting King’s core values and precepts. Beginning in 1956, he mentored the young civil rights leader to fully embrace the ideas, principles, and practices of nonviolent protest. Many black leaders in 1963 downplayed and hid Rustin’s contributions to the success of The March because of his sexuality; but his work was so essential to that historic day, Life magazine featured him on its cover the next week.
Sixty years later, the rich accounts of The March, even the Civil Rights Movement itself are being banned from the classroom by Republicans in statehouses in attempts to silence stories and rewrite our nation’s history in profane ways. Who could have imagined 60 years after The March, the state of Florida’s academic standards would include teaching middle school students that enslaved Black people “received personal benefits” from their bondage?
The arc of the moral universe is long; but in America today, it’s bending away from justice, if not retreating. Today people of color, women, LGBTQs, even children have less rights and legal protection than their parents did. It is a frightening and perilous time in our history to see the nation in regress promoting racism and division, rather than progress in perfecting our Union.
New York Times columnist, Charles Blow gave commentary on CBS Sunday Morning about the 60th anniversary of The March and its lasting legacy.
This is not a time to be complacent or remain silent. This is the time to redouble our efforts and combat the growing darkness in America today. We cannot give up or give in to it. We must keep our nation going forward towards its founding belief that all people are created equal and its promise that they’re recognized, included, and treated with equal justice under law.
Sixty years ago, a man called us to share in his dream and to work towards its fulfillment of the American dream for all its citizens. The urgency of now prohibits us from giving up, giving in, or not going forward. We cannot not let the dream be deferred any longer.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run walk, if you can’t walk crawl, but by all means keep moving.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
(main image: screen capture via CNN)