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Friday, October 21, 2016

After half a century, the March on Washington has moved into the historical record as a courageous but hardly radical event. It is widely remembered for Martin Luther King’s brilliant extemporaneous riffs on “I Have a Dream.” But even a peaceful assembly by “Negroes,” as black Americans were then known, was a dangerous idea in a volatile era.

President John F. Kennedy was dead-set against it, and protest planners were careful about choosing their allies for fear of informants to the Kennedy administration and his Federal Bureau of Investigation. Civil rights leaders formally demoted their best strategist, Bayard Rustin — though he continued to do most of the work — because he was openly gay and a one-time Communist, either of which would have been ammunition for those who wanted to derail the civil rights movement.

The march succeeded, though, perhaps beyond its organizers’ wildest dreams. A solemn demonstration of the power of black Americans’ simple plea for full citizenship, it proved to be one of the pivotal episodes of the civil rights movement. Its success in setting the stage for the Voting Rights Act shaped politics for the next 50 years, helping to propel President Barack Obama into office.

In the current political climate, it’s easy enough to minimize the remarkable progress toward full equality that the nation has made since 1963. It’s true that racism lives on, re-energized by pandering politicians and media demagogues. The criminal justice system is replete with discriminatory practices. Pernicious stereotypes still shadow the lives of black Americans.

Most damning, black workers have come no closer to closing the economic gap than they had in 1963. The Washington Post recently cited figures from the Economic Policy Institute showing that the unemployment rate was 5 percent for whites and 10.9 percent for blacks 50 years ago. The yawning gap remains today, with unemployment at 6.6 percent for whites and 12.6 percent for blacks, according to the Post. Furthermore, over the past 30 years, the average white family has gone from having five times as much wealth as the average black family to 6 1/2 times, the Post said.

Still, it’s disrespectful to those hardy and brave souls who stood on the Mall 50 years ago to suggest that little has changed. The nation has undergone a remarkable transformation in five decades, as the two elections of a black president attest.

  • sigrid28

    Put the “we” in “we can overcome.” Besides Ustream coverage above, you can participate via excellent television programming today through Wednesday. A substantive schedule of televised programming can be found by Googling “March on Washington.” Go to “commemorating the March on Washington: where to watch on TV,” which takes you to Best to be there in person. Second best, to join in spirit.

    • charleo1

      Good to know, sigrid. Thanks!

  • charleo1

    I was but eight years old, and far too young to appreciate the powerful words of
    Rev. King. Or, to even know what this prejudice, and intolerance, he spoke so
    eloquently against, was all about. There were no people of any color but White,
    in rural Southwestern Missouri. And so there was no need for segregated water
    fountains, bathrooms, or schools. But I do recall being baffled as to the reason
    there was such a unnatural outpouring of venom, aganist this Baptist preacher.
    Because Preachers, at least in that small neck of the woods, were generally
    looked up to, and revered. So, what was it about this Preacher, I wondered,
    that was all that different? His skin color yes. But I remember thinking, how
    that explained nothing. I also remember exactly where I was when the word
    of Dr. King’s assassination was broadcast to the Nation. And I remember the
    incongruence between what was being said on T.V. about that. And what was
    being said around the dinner table.

  • Pamby50

    I was to young to remember the speech that MLK gave but I do remember when he was killed. Little did I know that 14 yrs later I would meet the man of my dreams and he wasn’t white. I was niave enough to believe that he would accepted by my family. My mother laid down the law. He was never to set foot in her house. She didn’t even relent when her grand children were born. The bandage was ripped off and all the things I thought were true were not. That is what President Obama has done. He has ripped the bandage off. The right wants to blame him for dividing the country racially. It always has been only it is now in the open. It is the younger generation that is going to lead the way. So MLK I still believe in the dream.

    • charleo1

      There is always wisdom to be gained, when people like yourself share
      your experience first hand, of the destructive effects racism can have
      on families. I can only hope your Mother comes to realize, some of life’s
      greatest joys are never experienced, because we deny them to ourselves.
      I do hope his family was more accepting. Oftentimes this is the case.

      • Pamby50

        My mother never came around. When she died, we had our first family Thanksgiving where everyone was welcomed in 23 years. The wheels of progress turn slowly. As for my husbands family, they are the greatest.

        • charleo1

          It’s great your family is finally reunited. And sad to hear your
          Mother couldn’t bring herself around. It was a needless self
          inflicted loss on her part. But, you know in this Country there
          are no doubt thousands of Mothers, and Fathers too, making the same mistake with their families as your Mother did with
          you, and yours. I hope they read your story. It has the power
          to touch hearts, and bring families back together, as they
          should be.

    • idamag

      I admire your courage and convictions. You are so right to describe it as ripping the bandage off racism. Very apropos.

    • tax payer

      Your mother lost out in having you all those years and she took that to her Grave.

  • idamag

    Racism was never dead. It was just covered with snow and the snow is melting. I have known racist people all my life. They were just never overt with it. If they made a racist remark people, here, would look at them like they farted in church. Now, they have exchanged the lynchings for “stand-your-ground” and “stop and frisk.”