50-Year Anniversary March for “I Have a Dream Speech” - How Far Have We Come?
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream Speech" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before 250,000 civil rights supporters and to millions across the world on broadcast television during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The speech has been heralded as the clarion call and defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement.
August 28, 2013, marks the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s speech where over 100,000 people are expected to gather to commemorate and carry on his message of racial equality. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Erick Holder will make speeches at the event – both black men who have risen through the American political system due in part to the pathway of racial equality paved by men like Dr. King. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will present speeches along with other notable guests such as Martin Luther King, III.
The March on Washington in August 1963 was headed by the "Big Six" organizers, including: (1) Dr. King with Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); (2) James Farmer with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); (3) John Lewis with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); (4) A. Philip Randolph with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; (5) Roy Wilkins with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and (6) Whitney Young, Jr. with the National Urban League.
While the "Big Six" had different interests and agendas, their comprehensive demands called for meaningful civil rights legislation; public school desegregation; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; the creation of jobs through public-works programs; a $2.00/hour minimum wage; laws prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; and self-governance for the District of Columbia. President Kennedy was concerned that the March would lead to large riots and potential bloodshed so he called for a heavy police presence – which turned out to be unnecessary as the March and speeches remained civil and peaceful.
Over 25% of the March participants were white and the event included a large cast of musical performers, actors and actresses, and other notable celebrities, including the following: Bob Dylan; Joan Baez; Marian Anderson; Mahalia Jackson; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Josh White; Charlton Heston; Marlon Brando; Harry Belafonte; Sammy Davis, Jr.; Paul Newman; Diahann Carroll; Ossie Davis; Sidney Poitier; Lena Horne; and Rosa Parks.
King started his speech with prepared remarks stating they came to our nation’s capital to "cash a check" for "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." He eventually departed from his script and focused on his "I have a dream" theme he had used in prior speeches. Dr. King drew on many influences in his speech including "the American dream," religious themes, and culminated on the Negro spiritual to "let freedom ring" across the nation and ended by stating:
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."
In the wake of the March on Washington in 1963 and King’s speech, the nation and Congress responded by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – both huge pieces of legislation that have created greater racial equality to all.
The questions now become:
- How far have we come in 50-years after Dr. King’s speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial toward racial equality?
- What else do we need to accomplish to reach Dr. King’s call for racial equality? Or have we reached a plateau in racial equality in America?
- Is the main issue no longer racial equality in American? Are there other more pressing social issues such as class inequality (i.e. rich vs. poor), gender inequality, and/or sexual orientation inequality?
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