Reflections on the 50th anniversary March on Washington

Martin_Luther_King_Jr. "When the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say, 'There lived a great people - a black people- who injected new meaning into the veins of civilization.'" ~Martin Luther King The inclusivity of persons, causes and movements, both on the platform and among those gathered on Saturday, August 24, 2013 for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, represented a 21st century acknowledgement of Martin Luther King's statement, "There lived a great people". It was as though there was at last a recognition that black people who have been historically rejected, became the "cornerstone" of an emerging new civilization. Black people who have been demeaned and dehumanized, by some who interpreted the biblical "Noah's Curse" as being directed at black people, have known; colonialism, slavery, racial segregation in "the world's greatest democracy", and today still carry the burden of that legacy of injustice. Yet, the song that we often sang in Civil Rights Movement demonstrations; "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me 'roun", has been descriptive of a people who have been knocked down, but not knocked out. March-on-Washington-Reflecting_poolThe 50th anniversary March on Washington revealed for the nation and the world to see what has often been unarticulated; the resistance of black people to injustice, has served as a model of inspiration to women and men who have known injustice, not because they are black, but because of other reasons. Is it too bold to suggest that because of what took place on the Mall in Washington, DC on August 24th, the slogan, "The People United, Will Never Be Defeated", will become a living truth as never before?

Some responses to quotations/responses from the media that I believe are worth considering, following the 50th anniversary observances:

1. "...'black problems' in the 1970's and 1980's - persistent unemployment, especially for men, family breakdown and social disarray - are now problems affecting the pan-ethnic working class." NY Times, "A Different Kind of Division", Ross Douthat, 8/25/2013.

It is said, "What goes around, comes around." There was a time the white working class accepted their struggles, because they were convinced by the history and culture of racial segregation, that "at least, despite our struggles, we are not black". This, in the south and the rest of the nation, kept working class, whites and blacks (even in the unions) from uniting and creating coalitions to confront their similar problems. Now, "the pan-ethnic working class" can begin to understand as never before, that "black problems" are their problems as well.

2. "For some of the rodeo clowns clamoring for impeachment around the country, Barack Obama's real problem is presiding while black." NY Times, "Reindeer Games", Maureen Dowd, 8/25/2013.

The rush to proclaim the election of our 44th president, Barack Obama, our nation's first black president, as the formal beginning of a "post racial/racist era" has proven to be more of a hope than a reality. It is a hope deeply rooted in and between the lines of Martin Luther King's, "I Have A Dream" speech, but it is a hope not yet realized and we now know that some have used this hope to mask their lingering inability to exorcise the demons of anti-black racism that are still within them. The acceptance of the "American validity" of the junior Senator from Texas who was born of an American mother in Canada, while a President born of an American mother in one of the states of the USA, is viewed by some as being without "American validity", is a telling description of the black - non-black divide that still exists. The president is black, the junior Senator from Texas is not. When the USA elects its first woman, Jewish, Asian, Latino/a/Hispanic, Native American, gay President, etc. will they face something comparable to the "birther craze", that will forever leave its mark on the Obama presidency? Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Jimmy Carter, Bill ClintonIt is important that those who are not black, to challenge more vigorously, the subtle and less-than-subtle, anti-black responses by a few, in and out of Congress, to President Barack Obama. If, for no other reason than doing it as a way to say that no other "first" President, ought have to be bothered with the "birther" and other foolishness, that has plagued the presidency of our 44th President. The film "42" (The number that Jackie Robinson wore as he became the first black to play in major league baseball) depicts the racist words and deeds inflicted upon him by team mates, opponents and fans. I hope there will be a "44" (Barack Obama is our 44th President) film, that depicts the racist words and deeds, Barack Obama has faced. The contradictions these anti-black responses to our 44th President, when we consider our national racial history, and the Martin Luther King-led Movement that has reversed and is reversing that history, must not be ignored, denied, or revised. The racial progress we have made, and the future will be best served if we do not "hide" these contradictions, but rather reveal them as a way to give visibility to the roads of bigotry we have traveled to become who we are, and are in the process of becoming as a nation.

3. "Contradictions, freedoms and nonviolence should be words that engage the thinking and conversation of all of us as we discuss race." Asbury Park Press, "Freedom, nonviolence must be in our discussion", Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell, 8/25/2013.

I have mentioned "contradictions" in the above number 2, as being one of the words, and illustrations of that word that are important as we engage in post 50th Anniversary March on Washington discussions and actions. But also a discussion of "freedom" and how the Civil Rights Movement took seriously the freedom to speak, protest and assemble in its successful efforts to transform the racial attitudes and practices of the nation. Despite the critics of "The Movement", they began to realize that depriving black people of the freedoms that are at the heart of who we say we are as a nation, would ultimately restrict their freedoms. And "nonviolence". Black people, from the beginnings of their arrival in the USA, were victimized by government-sanctioned tyranny. The names for this tyranny; slavery and racial segregation; legally imposed. I often wondered if those who speak so glibly about 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms against government tyranny, believe that it would have been of benefit to Constitutional principles for black people and their advocates to "take up arms" in wholesale fashion against the tyranny of states and the national government, imposed against them? Each time I see a protestor carry a flag that has on it the words; "Don't tread on Me", I wonder if he or she,thinks about the groups that were present and vocal at the 50th anniversary March on Washington, and how they, because of who they are, have in the past and present said, "Don't Tread on Me"? And how year-after-year, and generation-after-generation, too often those who asserted their freedom to be who they were, participated silently or openly in denying others the freedoms that they demanded for themselves?

4. "In some ways, America has exceeded King's vision. In others, however, his to-do list remains far from finished." "ONE DREAM", Michelle Norris, TIME. 8/26-9/2/2013.

The analysis, hopes and dreams that birthed the idea of "The Poor People's Campaign" represent one of Dr. King's "far from finished" dreams that Michelle Norris writes about. My son and I wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Sunday, August 25th Trenton Times. I call attention to what my son wrote, of course because he is my son, but far more than that. Dale, writes better than, certainly as well as most, as he writes of a economic transformation as the next phase of Martin Luther King's vision.

5. Rev. Al Sharpton; During the 50th Anniversary March on Washington program and in the media since, I have heard and read bits and pieces of criticisms of "Rev. Al" as he is sometimes called by participants on his MSNBC program. I first met him over 40 years ago at the weekly meetings of New York's, Rev. Jesse Jackson's, "OPERATION BREADBASKET", imagesheld at Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn. Rev. William "Bill" Jones, the pastor of the Church was the leader of the New York chapter of Operation Breadbasket. I was, at the time, the Executive Director of the Ministerial Interfaith Association of Harlem. Many Saturday mornings I would leave my responsibilities in Harlem and travel to Brooklyn to participate in those meetings. Al Sharpton was a teenager in those days with far more hair and weight than he has today. One of our efforts was to challenge the racial discrimination practices of the super market giant of the time, A & P. We decided to engage in civil disobedience at their offices in mid-town Manhattan and Jesse Jackson, Bill Jones and I and others were arrested in that protest. Al Sharpton wanted to be arrested with us, but Jesse and Bill said to him, "No, you are too young". When I was later the Pastor of St. Marks United Methodist Church in Harlem, Al Sharpton preached at the Church. After the service, I asked him about the above, and it was he who told me of why he was not arrested.

We need make no effort to create an equivalence between Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King. I am sure "Rev. Al" would not want that. But, cannot all of us be magnificently mystified by the fact, some of us would say God, others would say something else, that Martin Luther King, holder of a Ph.D from Boston University and Al Sharpton holder of the degrees that association with soul singer, James Brown and the streets of Brooklyn and Harlem provide, would be both, "led to lead" movements and moments that cannot help but touch all of us? Al Sharpton once said; "It's time to bring down the volumne and bring up the programs."

Could it be that, that is what the 50th anniversary observances of the 1963 March on Washington will now initiate; PROGRAMS, PROGRAM, PROGRAMS?