Beyond the breaking news that the US is close to intervening in Syria, the country is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, August 28th 1963. Yesterday a commemorative gathering was held on the Mall, before the Lincoln Memorial, the same location as Dr King chose long ago as center-stage for his campaign of non-violent protest to the plight of black Americans 100 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation liberated them from their shackles.
JOBS AND FREEDOM
Over 200,000 people – 2/3s of them black, the rest white – arrived in Washington, not to burn down the capital but to set hearts and minds aflame for the just cause of equal rights for all. Jobs and Freedom was their cry, a modest demand in the home of the brave and land of the free. Yet it had still not materialized for the portion of the population who happened to be born with a different shade of skin.
HE HAD A DREAM
Dr Martin Luther King Jr, a 34 year-old Baptist preacher and leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, didn’t hold a speech. No, he preached a sermon that every American needed to hear. I watched a recording of it last night and it gave me goosebumps. He departed from his written speech to hold forth eloquently about his American dream. And that dream was inconceivable in 1963. Here, the relevant portion:
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
Fifty years later great progress has been achieved. However, speaking at yesterday’s gathering, the black sports star Bill Russell admonished his audience not to rest on past achievements. He told listeners not to measure progress by how far we’ve come but by how far we still need to go.
There is much truth in that, however, it seems to me so much has been achieved that it must be acknowledged as a major miracle.
I feel a great need to retract a statement that I made as a reply to a comment on my last (guest) post on Italian politics. I agreed with Alison that we were powerless to have any affect on what’s going on around us on a national or international level; that yes, it probably didn’t matter much whether we knew what’s going on in the world or not.
After revisiting the events of 1963, I must retract those views. If those black and white individuals had not been determined to change their world, blacks would still be living the lives of semi-slaves and whites would be the perpetrators. I am so grateful to those people who had the courage to march and to protest non-violently despite police brutality, who weren’t satisfied to sit on their couches and live with the world as it was. Thank you for changing our perceptions. Thank you for proving that the actions of individuals do count.
Do we not owe it to them – and to ourselves – not to relinquish our responsibilities, not to disenfranchise ourselves? Because if we do not participate on some level in making our society a better place for all, we have little right to damn the Germans in the twenties and thirties for allowing a Hitler to happen.