August 29, 2013
By Gregory Dale
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
At the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, a host of dignitaries lined the stage situated at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Under clear blue skies, leaders discussed why they’re still marching a half century later.
Martin Luther King Jr. III took the stage roughly at 12:43 pm. In a tone that eerily mirrored his father’s, he discussed how America needs a new plan to provide jobs in the wake of a struggling economy.
He also called for the end of senseless violence around the country.
“My father [Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.] sought the blood of the community. No more Newtowns, no more Columbines and no more violence in Chicago,” he said. “We need to keep on walking, keep on talking and keep on educating.”
Shortly thereafter, National Action Network (NAN) leader Al Sharpton took the stage and opened by discussing the struggles Black participants in the ’63 march faced just to make it to the Nation’s Capital.
“Fifty years ago, some came to Washington and rode on the back of the bus. Some couldn’t stay in hotel rooms and had to sleep in cars,” he said.
He later urged generations young and old to come together and fight for injustices and social ills around the nation.
After Sharpton’s speech the crowd exploded in applause and cheers.
August 29, 2013
By Kevin Liptak
CNN Wire Service
A jury’s decision in July to acquit George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin represented “questionable judgment,” former Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview aired Sunday.
But the retired four-star general, who was the first African-American to serve in the top U.S. diplomatic post, went on to suggest the case wouldn’t have a lasting impact on Americans’ lives.
“I don’t know if it will have staying power,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“These cases come along, and they blaze across the midnight sky and then after a period of time, they’re forgotten,” he said.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Martin in February 2012, was acquitted by a jury in July on state criminal charges. The case sparked a nationwide discussion of race. Martin was an unarmed black teenager, and Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
After the verdict, President Barack Obama delivered a personal statement about the case, delving deeply into issues of race and justice, and connecting the difficulties facing American-American men to situations he himself had faced.
Powell said Sunday he’d like Obama to “be more passionate about race questions.”
“In my lifetime, over a long career in public life, you know, I’ve been refused access to restaurants where I couldn’t eat, even though I just came back from Vietnam. ‘We can’t give you a hamburger, come back some other time,’” Powell said, adding that while progress has been made toward racial equality, there is still work to be done.
“We’re not there yet,” he said. “And so we’ve got to keep working on it. And for the president to speak out on it is appropriate. I think all leaders, black and white, should speak out on this issue.”
August 29, 2013
By Xavier Higgs
LAWT Contributing Writer
It was probably the most famous mass rally in U.S. history.
A defining moment in the American civil rights movement came in the midst of the long hot summer of 1963, the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” was a pivotal point for social change in America.
The March on Washington transformed the political climate of this nation. A crowd of more than 250,000 people gathered for the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation's capital. The rally at the National Mall included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his “I Have A Dream” speech.
The march received extensive media attention, including live international television coverage. The mass protest helped strengthen the most critical social legislation in the nation’s history and was followed by the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
1963 was noted for racial unrest and civil rights demonstrations. A nationwide outrage was sparked by media coverage of police actions against protesters in Birmingham, Alabama and the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.
Simeon Booker, first black staff reporter for the Washington Post, was a reporter for Ebony and Jet magazine during the march.
“It was a very inspiring experience,” says Booker.
In retrospect he said it was a terrific assignment.
“But it was a very unusual event and momentous occasion,’ said Booker.
In his book, “Shocking The Conscience, A Report’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement”, he remembers the fears that preceded the march was never realized.
Not everybody who attended the march was fully aware of its significance. It's been a 50 years since Elmer B. Redding, 62, who lived in Baltimore was taken by his father to Washington D.C.
At 11 years old, he had no idea about the march until his father insisted on attending.
“It’s a historical event” he needed to see. Redding recalls, “Where there was grass there were people. We push our way as close to the Lincoln Memorial as we could.”
He also remembered hearing Mahalia Jackson singing.
But as Martin Luther King, Jr. was introduced there was calm that settled over the crowd. “People gave direct attention to what was going on,” Says Redding. He did not understand what was going on.
Carol Redding, 65, Elmer’s wife grew up in D.C says she also “remembers how mesmerize everybody seem to be as Dr. King spoke.
Meanwhile the march highlighted unrealized goals.
Between 1955 and 1962, African Americans were determined through immense campaigns aimed at dismantling segregation, and the demand for federal civil rights legislation. These efforts were stalled due to political avoidance by the John F. Kennedy administration, southern segregationist influence, and northern apathy.
Dr. Terrence Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine, was 22 years old in 1963. Since the Littler Rock incident in 1957 the country was beginning to see the emergence of the new civil rights movement.
“It was my understanding that this fight for equality had taken on new life,” says Dr. Roberts.
At that time people were beginning to question the status quo and finding new ways of building opportunities for more people.
Although he didn’t understand at the time, he concludes, “racism isn’t the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the advantage taken by people for their own economic benefit.”
He adds that being in Little Rock or Los Angeles didn’t make any difference because the situation was virtually the same.“It was always the have’s, mainly white, and the have not’s, the people of color.”
As it turns out, the march became more of a show of solidarity and hope, and became the impetus of a long line of Americans taking social change to the streets.
August 29, 2013
By Kevin Liptak
CNN News Wire
WASHINGTON — Heralding the long fight toward racial equality that many say hasn’t ended, President Barack Obama commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech Wednesday on the same steps the civil rights leader spoke from half a century ago.
“His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time,” Obama told a diverse crowd that gathered under gray skies and intermittent drizzle to attend the hours-long ceremony.
King, Obama said, “gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions,” hailing leaders who braved intimidation and violence in their fight for equal rights.
On that August day in 1963, when King and his fellow marchers attended what he labeled “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation,” few in that crowd could have imagined that half a century later, an African-American president of the United States would mark the occasion with a speech in the same location.
And during his remarks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Obama cast his own election to the Oval Office as a consequence of persistence and courage from leaders such as King.
“Because they kept marching, America changed,” Obama said. “Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed and Congress changed and, yes, eventually, the White House changed.”
While other, negative changes have forestalled the push toward racial harmony, Obama stressed Wednesday that the work of civil rights leaders had permanently changed the discourse between races in America.
“To dismiss the magnitude of this process, to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed, that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years,” Obama said.
Adopting words from another of King’s speeches, Obama declared that “the arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.”
Leaders speaking at Wednesday’s anniversary event, including Obama, stressed that income disparity, high unemployment and a shrinking middle class have slashed hopes for attaining equality for millions of Americans, though the president said those facts couldn't erase the forward march of the civil rights movement.
“To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency,” he said, adding, “We will suffer the occasional setback, but we will win these fights. This country has changed too much.”
In an interview after the speech, he said he wished his policies had done more to improve the gap between those who have wealth and those who do not.
“It certainly weighs on me,” he told PBS. “In my first term, essentially, my job was to make sure, as you said, that the economy didn’t just completely collapse.”
Other speakers Wednesday marked the great progress toward King’s goal of racial accord, though many suggested that the dream was far from realized, specifically citing voter identification laws that critics say prevent African-Americans from casting ballots, and the verdict in the closely watched Trayvon Martin murder trial.
“We have come a great distance in this country in the 50 years. But we still have a great distance to go before we fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.,” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, adding that progress toward King’s goal could be marked by his own election to Congress.
“But there are still invisible signs, barriers in the hearts of humankind that form a gulf between us,” said Lewis, the only speaker from the 1963 march who also spoke Wednesday.
Another leader from King’s era of the civil rights movement, Myrlie Evers-Williams, said the United States had “certainly taken a turn backwards” in the quest for civil rights.
Two former presidents also delivered remarks Wednesday, each representing a distinct era in the movement for equal rights in America. President Jimmy Carter, speaking ahead of Obama, asserted that recent developments in American policy would have disappointed King.
“I believe we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the new ID requirements to exclude certain voters, especially African-Americans,” said Carter, a Democrat. “I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the Supreme Court striking down a crucial part of the Voting Rights Act just recently passed overwhelmingly by Congress.”
And another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, argued during his speech for working together against stalemates and inaction, saying King “did not live and die to hear his heirs whine about political gridlock.”
“It is time to stop complaining and put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding the American people back,” Clinton said.
Neither of the living former Republican presidents attended Wednesday’s event. In fact, no elected Republican delivered remarks at the 50th anniversary commemoration. George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush both opted out, citing health concerns. The latter is recovering from a recent heart procedure.
Before Obama addressed the throngs gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, civil rights leaders past and present remembered the decades-long movement to secure equal treatment and rights for African-Americans.
The daughters of two presidents key to enacting the Civil Rights Act were also present: Lynda Johnson Robb and Caroline Kennedy, whom Obama recently nominated as ambassador to Japan.
Celebrities and entertainers at the event included Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, who star as husband and wife in one of the summer’s hottest movies, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” about life in the White House through the eyes of the (mostly black) hired help.
Winfrey declared that King had seen injustice and “refused to look the other way.”
“We, too, can be courageous by continuing to walk in the footsteps of the path that he forged,” Winfrey said.
Two musicians who performed at the 1963 march also sang Wednesday. Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, from the trio Peter, Paul and Mary, sang Bob Dylan's “Blowin’ in the Wind,” backed by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the parents of Trayvon Martin, whose 2012 shooting death sparked a national conversation about race. Mary Travers, the third artist in the group, died in 2009.
Obama’s most personal remarks on race ahead of Wednesday’s speech came in the aftermath of the July verdict that found Martin’s killer not guilty.
In the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial, attendees used the occasion to remember where they were when they first heard King’s “I have a Dream” speech.
“I grew up in a segregated environment. I never met a white person till I was a junior in college,” said Betty Waller Gray, who traveled to Wednesday’s march from Richmond. “It was just so emotional to be here today after knowing where I was in 1963. I was just a kid finishing high school back then.”
Gilbert Lyons, an employee of the National Park Service, attended the original March on Washington half a decade ago and heard King utter his famous works in person.
“I went home with it in my head. I even spoke to my wife about it,” he said. “It stayed with me. And the more I heard about Martin Luther King, the more things he was doing, I said, ‘this man is great. He is a gentleman that can bring America back to themselves like they’re supposed to be.’ We’re not supposed to be this race and that race. We are Americans.”
CNN’s Joe Johns, Stacey Samuel, Athena Jones and Larry Lazo contributed to this report.