Remembering The March on Washington

August 27th, 2013 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Remembering The March on Washington

MLKmarchOnDCTomorrow (Wednesday, August 28, 2013) marks the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march took place in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, August 28, 1963. Attended by some 250,000 people, it was the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation’s capital, and one of the first to have extensive television coverage. The march was calling for civil and economic rights for African Americans. The stated demands were the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; a major public-works program to provide jobs; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2 an hour minimum wage; and self-government for the District of Columbia, which had a black majority. The march is widely credited for helping to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).

What the March on Washington became most noted for was the final speech of the day, by the 32 year-old SCLC President, Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. This speech became known as the I Have a Dream” speech, which was carried live by TV stations, and even at the time, was considered the most impressive moment of the march. Dr. King’s speech remains one of the most famous speeches in American history. He began with prepared remarks, but then he departed from his script, shifting into the “I have a dream” theme speaking of an America where his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He followed this with a plea to “let freedom ring” across the nation, and concluded with:

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

Below is his “I Have A Dream Speech” in its entirety. Please take 19 minutes out of your day today and watch this thoughtful, inspiring, and powerful speech. Aside from the speech itself, here are a few other remarkable aspects about that day, 50 years ago:

– The speech was on August 28, 1963 before the now famous Civil Rights legislation was passed and enacted in 1964, and marking the 100 year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

– Not once does Reverend King look down at any notes, and he had no teleprompter available during the speech, and yet, those words were spoken without even a pause.

– There were over 250,000 people who attended the speech that day. Most came from southern states – Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana – making a 2-day trip in cars without air-conditioning during the hottest month of the year.

– Keep in mind that there was no Facebook, Twitter, or online communication of any sort to promote this event. It was mostly by word of mouth that people knew of the event.

– Many who attended were just barely getting by financially and did not get paid while they took time off from their jobs to attend.

– Dr. King’s notes from the speech showed no reference to the most famous part of the speech – the I Have A Dream segment. According to those closest to Dr. King, that portion was spontaneously delivered and inspired by his wife Coretta, who right before he went to the podium encouraged him to personalize his talk.

Let today, and particularly tomorrow, on the anniversary of The March on Washington, be a time that we are reminded of what’s really of importance in our lives. At some point over the next couple of days, that may seem like taking care of a spill on aisle three, or making sure that the truck is quickly unloaded, or a myriad of other tasks that will lie in front of us. I would argue that none of these activities (and I mean no disrespect to what any of us do) are as important or as meaningful as watching this video of Dr. King delivering the “I Have A Dream” speech. Let the celebration of this remarkable time, this remarkable speech, and this remarkable man, remind us that what’s most important at any moment is how we treat and care for each other, respecting the dignity within each of us irrespective of our race, gender, religion, or personal philosophy. We are indeed brothers and sisters. Today is a good day to be mindful of this.