50 years later

Categories: Nation/World

Anniversary of historic March on Washington draws crowds to make Rev. King’s ‘dream’ reality

August 30, 2013, edition
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

By the thousands they came to the National Mall in Washington, people of all ages, races and religions, to stand in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial Aug. 24, just as hundreds of thousands had done 50 years 

In 1963, those at the March on Washington were galvanized by the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose “I Have a Dream” speech electrified a nation and pushed it, sometimes against its will, to guarantee civil rights to all Americans.

In 2013, participants in the commemoration took note of how far America has come in the past half-century, but also acknowledged how far America has to go.

While the original march had as its tagline “For Jobs and Freedom,” the Aug. 24 anniversary event’s informal tagline was “jobs, justice and freedom.”

The program in 1963 had 15 speakers, including three prayers — one of them an invocation by then-Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle of Washington. In contrast, the Aug. 24 event had more than four hours of speakers, most of them limited to two minutes before the music swelled and the microphone was cut.

That allowed for a broader pallete
of issues to be raised, including immigration reform, women’s rights, gay rights and “Trayvon’s Law,” an effort to reverse “stand your ground” laws in states. The effort is named for Trayvon Martin, the teen whose killer was acquitted in July by a jury instructed on Florida’s stand-your-ground law.

“Both Martins — King and Trayvon — were unjustly profiled,” said Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown University and one of the march’s first speakers.

Clayola Brown, the first woman president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, said the 2013 march was about “jobs, justice and freedom, the same topics as they were then.” The institute is named for the man who first conceived of a march on Washington in 1941 to pressure President Franklin Roosevelt to end hiring discrimination by the federal government and headed the 1963 march.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a Catholic who is House minority leader, said of King, “He would want us to honor him by realizing his dream.” She added that Congress needed to amend the 1964 Voting Rights Act, considered by many to be the capstone of the civil rights movement. A key portion of the act was struck down in June by the Supreme Court.

Pelosi reminded the crowd of King’s warning against “the drug of gradualism” and how it needed to be replaced by “the fierce urgency of now.”

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a United Methodist minister who worked in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s and who followed King as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, spoke near the program’s end, seated in a wheelchair.

Noting that there are African Americans serving as president and as attorney general, Rev. Lowery, 91, said, “Everything has changed, and nothing and changed. That’s how it is in America.

“We go back home to complete the unfinished task. . . . We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long, long way to go.” He then led the crowd in a chant: “We come up here to commemorate, but we go back home to agitate.”

The group Catholic Democrats used Holy Redeemer Church in Washington as a staging point to travel en masse to the march.

The National Black Catholic Congress encouraged its members to go to an earlier rally promoting statehood for the District of Columbia at the D.C. War Memorial, situated between the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, two points on the march route.

After Marcia Holton, a member of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish in Washington, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, himself a Catholic, urged the several thousand at the rally to push for “full democracy” for the district, which has only a nonvoting delegate in the House, and whose budget is often the target of congressional review.

“We fight in wars, wars authorized by a Congress we don’t have any representation in,” Gray said. “Dr. King would ask us why we are not more outraged” over the lack of statehood, he added. “He would ask, ‘Why do you take it? . . . Why are you so complacent?’ ”