Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016

WASHINGTON — The things we forget about the March on Washington are the things we most need to remember 50 years on.

We forget that the majestically peaceful assemblage that moved a nation came in the wake of brutal resistance to civil rights and equality. And that there would be more to come.

A young organizer named John Lewis spoke at the march of living “in constant fear of a police state.” He would suffer more. On March 7, 1965, Lewis and his colleague Hosea Williams led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL. They were met by mounted state troopers who would fracture Lewis’ skull. As we celebrate Lewis’ ultimate triumph and his distinguished career in the House of Representatives, we should never lose sight of all it took for him to get there.

We forget that the formal name of the great gathering before the Lincoln Memorial was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Jobs came first, an acknowledgement that the ability to enjoy liberty depends upon having the economic wherewithal to exercise our rights. The organizing manual for the march, as Michele Norris points out in Time magazine, spoke of demands that included “dignified jobs at decent wages.” It is a demand as relevant as ever.

We forget that many who were called moderate — including good people who supported civil rights — kept counseling patience and worried that the march might unleash violence.

King answered them in the oration that would introduce tens of millions of white Americans to the moral rhythms and scriptural poetry that define the African-American pulpit.

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now,” King declared. “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” How often has the opiate of delay been prescribed to scuttle social change?

King’s dream speech was partly planned and partly improvised, as Taylor Branch reported in Parting the Waters, his book on the early King years. One reviewer of the speech, a principal target of King’s persuasion, pronounced it a success. “He’s damn good,” President John F. Kennedy told his aides in the White House.

He was. King’s genius lay in striking a precise balance between comforting his fellow citizens and challenging them. Like Lincoln before him, King discovered the call for justice in the promises of our founders.

  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    It really pains me to know that this generation has little knowledge or understanding of what went on before us to start to tear down the Jim Crow laws, red lines, or any of the other institutions designed to prevent Black people from being to raise themselves up. There were heroes and villains on both sides of the political spectrum in this struggle. People like my father, raised as New Deal Democrats in Italian enclaves in upstate New York, were never able to accept Black equality. Others were.
    There may be hope, though. My daughter doesn’t pay attention to the color of someone’s skin when she makes friends. She recognizes there are people she likes and doesn’t like. She has seen her mother and me interact with people of all skin tones, and has noted we treat everyone with the same level of respect. Her generation may be the one that finally leads us to that future that Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated for us.

    • John Condon

      We should not forget how the Democratic Party opposed the civil rights legislation n the 1960’s and were it not for the Republican Party’s efforts they never would have passed.

      • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

        John, you are making the same mistake many others do. The Democratic Party of the 60s was dominated by segregationist Southerners. Lyndon Johnson worked his Rolodex and garnered support from Northern Liberal Republicans (Javits, Brooke, etc.) in garnering the votes needed to overcome Jesse Helms, Strom Thrumond, etc.
        Also, please note that after 1968, these same Southern Democrats were lured over to the Republican Party, where they again dominated the political scene after the “Republican Takeover” under Newt Gingrich. Now they had the problem of actually governing, whereas before they only had to act as the “loyal opposition” judiciously using the power of the filibuster to slow things down.
        However, as they passed the torch to a newer generation of Republicans, less wiling to forge legislation through compromise, today’s Republicans no longer stand for the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, or even Reagan. Instead they use stridency to drown out opposition and refuse to work for what is best for the country.

  • tdm3624

    An apathetic population stands in the way of most progress. Mr. King had a way of galvanizing people into action. It’s too bad that I am too young to have seen him when he was alive.

  • Pamby50

    As I look at some of the posters, they haven’t change at all in North Carolina. Still looking for jobs, still looking to keep our voting rights and education. I don’t remember MLK much as I was young. I do remember when he was killed. Fast forward & my better half is black & I am white. I have faith that our children will keep advancing MLK’s dream. They don’t judge people based on the color of the skin, but the content of their heart. The same for sexual preference.

  • Ed

    We are still waiting for President Obama’s statement to the effect that the assassination of the 88 year old WWII (white) veteran in Seattle by 2 black thugs was an unspeakable and hateful act against a defenseless old man who posed no threat to these 2 coward POS that killed him.
    We are still waiting Obama ……