“I have a dream” is the phrase that has reverberated through the country and the world for sixty years.
The March that occurred on August 28, 1963, was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Organized by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the purpose of the March was to advocate for African Americans’ civil and economic rights. History books would record the event as a catalyst for the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Today, we remember it for Martin Luther King and his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
One hundred years before the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his dream, President Abraham Lincoln put forth the Emancipation Proclamation. Although this Proclamation did not free slaves in border states and was a wartime measure and not permanent legislation, the Emancipation Proclamation marked a moment in time when more than 3.5 million people who had previously been denied fundamental human rights were no longer required by law to be subservient to another human being.
We, as Americans, have turned the Emancipation Proclamation into a golden document that deserves its place in history books. However, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that occurred on August 28, 1963, showed just how far from perfect the country was. In the span of one hundred years, racial injustice had grown ever more profound. Jim Crow. Voter Suppression. Anti Semitism… Hatred was running rampant, and today, in 2023, history is repeating itself.
Learning history changes history, and without it, we are doomed to keep repeating it. There have been sixty long years between the 1963 March on Washington and its 2023 continuation.
At the March the other day, there was a man, Denorver Garrett, carrying a life-sized cross. This cross had nails and fake blood where Jesus would have been nailed to it. Across it in large print were the words “Let’s put the guns down, America.” One by one, he invited people to come and sign the names of gun violence victims. The Sandy Hook kids, Daniel Wagoner, Brandon Miller, Richardo Harris, and Chris True, were just some of the hundreds of names written. Watching the line of people who wished to write names on the cross made it abundantly clear just how many people in the country have been touched by gun violence.
Thousands of people gathered on Saturday to add their voices to the March. Some came with groups or organizations, while others came with their families or by themselves. There was no right or wrong way to come, no right or wrong way of adding your voice to the cause. Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, the battle against antisemitism, and ending gun violence were only some of the causes that banded together in the name of justice. After all, the day’s theme was “a continuation, not a commemoration.”
We, as a people, stand on the backs of giants. James Armistead Lafayette spied so we could win at Yorktown. Abigail Adams begged for women to be remembered. Frederick Douglas fought prejudice to ensure no other human being would be subjected to ownership. Phillis Wheatley. Martin Luther King Jr. Susan B. Anthony. Harriet Tubman. Booker T. Washington. Cady Stanton. John Lewis.
They were not presidents. Most of them never held powerful positions, most of them were barred from doing so. But they all stood up. They all fought for justice and equality. They fought and sacrificed so that generations to come would live in a world that truly was a ‘more peaceful union.’ But if the 2023 March on Washington proved anything, it proved that our work is far from over.
No one should have to stand at a podium and demand equality. We should not have to say that our society is regressing. No human should have to drop to their knees and beg for justice after their child has been ruthlessly slaughtered.
As a society, our hands are stained with red, and it is our turn to take a stand and stop it.
The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was not designed with the hope that Martin Luther King’s words would echo throughout history, but echo they have. Threescore years ago, he told us of his dream. He and many others lost their lives trying to fulfill that dream.
While standing amongst thousands of other tired but unrelenting souls, one can’t help but think of the people who stood there before us. Many spoke of the fact that the 2023 March had women speakers outnumbering men. In 1963, only one woman was invited to speak. I say, let’s take that idea one step further. The original 1963 March began at the Lincoln Memorial because Lincoln was the great beacon of hope, the great emancipator. However, when the monument was dedicated in 1922, only one African American, Robert Russa Moton (from the Tuskegee Institute), was invited to speak. When he and other prominent African-American figures arrived, they were informed by a Marine that there was segregated seating. In fact, former President and Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft had Moton extensively rewrite his speech to prevent him from spreading ‘propaganda.’
The United States of America has had a racism problem since long before the Declaration of Independence was ever signed. Jefferson may have initially drafted a Declaration that promised to free enslaved peoples. Still, it is essential to remember that our founding fathers, as a collective, cut said promise to promote unity among themselves. We are a country that claims to be the “Land of the free and home of the brave,” but we continuously deny our brothers and sisters true equality.
The 2023 March on Washington could have us put our heads down in shame. Shame that we are not equal. Shame that our rights continue to be stripped away. Shame that we cannot keep violence away from our children. Shame that we still have to discuss a dream that remains unfilled.
But we will not put our heads down in shame. Instead, we should look at the 2023 March on Washington and be filled with hope. Hope is found within the mother who proudly stood with her daughter and their “Civil Rights of 1964” sign. Hope is found within the teacher who proudly spoke of the stories she would bring back to her students or the father who stood by his son’s artwork. Hope was found within the story of Carlos Walker and within the almost six hundred people who proudly wore the friendship bracelets I gave them.
Together as one is where we belong.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is still important today because his dream was a dream deferred…
“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?”*
*(Harlem, Langston Hughes)