Today commemorates the 50th Anniversary of what is now called ‘March on Washington’. In 1963 the event was advertised as ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’. It was organized by a collaboration of leaders across various social and civic activist organizations. The march was decades in the making, even before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the 1940’s A. Philip Randolph who was president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters as well as a leader in other organizations was one of the key organizers in the early March on Washington Movement. Yes that is correct as early as 1941 the idea of protesting in Washington, D.C. was formed and probably even earlier.
Planning for the march that came to fruition began in December 1962. It is estimated that 250,000 participated in the march with 60,000 present being non-African American. Just as with the election of President Obama it took all people to make progress occur, those most impacted and those who believed in equality for every human-being. A group was formed named the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership with the focus of funding and messaging, this was indeed a well-orchestrated event as we now know. The primary leaders known now as the ‘Big Six’ were A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer (president of the Congress of Racial Equality), John Lewis (chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference), Roy Wilkins (president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and Whitney Young (president of the Urban League). The youngest of this group Lewis was 23 years old in 1963 with Randolph being the elder. For many the march was considered a radically dangerous idea. The day prior to the event the sound system was destroyed by vandals, however, with the push of the importance of keeping order it was rebuilt by the Army Corp of Engineers in one night. There were a massive number of law enforcement to not only keep order but to protect the participants of the march.
The march is one of the brightest beacons from the civil rights movement but as indicated it was long in the making. Women and youth were pivotal in the movement as well. Most know the Rosa Parks’ story, but she was not the first woman to be arrested for not giving up her seat on a city bus to a white male passenger, however, it was her story that helped light the torch of hope for a movement. Stemming from Mrs. Parks arrest was one of the longest protests, the Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 384 days spanning December 1, 1955 to December 20, 1956. Though Mrs. Parks and many others were adults the civil rights movement was also carried by students. Determined young people marched in local protest against unfair Jim Crow laws but most historically protested the unfair practices of stores like Woolworth’s by doing lunch counter sit-ins.
It may never be known how many lives were lost as a direct relation to the civil rights movement, such as Medgar Evers murdered just months before the march. What also must be remembered are tragedies such as the church bombing, killing four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama and the murder of the three Freedom Riders in Mississippi which came after the March on Washington. Most importantly the deaths of those fighting for civil rights and equality including Dr. King help to remind us the importance of the event on Wednesday, August 28, 1963. The “I Have A Dream” speech gave the movement a clearly defined leader; one who didn’t reach his 40th birthday but the movement included every day people. With recent incidents in the 21st century including the shooting death of an unarmed 17 year old Trayvon Martin by a vigilante and most recently the shooting of an unarmed man on his property by police, remind us that the color of our skin is still a determining factor by some of our fate. In addition across a number of states run by Republican governors unfair and illogical voter protection legislation has been enacted.
Yes, today is a good time to remember an event that occurred 50 years ago but African Americans must continue to forge toward the dream that Dr. King spoke about. Some rights have been gained but there is still a disproportionate amount of African Americans in poverty and trying to make it day to day. In addition the opportunities for a four year college degree is a greater struggle. We can’t stop now we must keep marching to ensure 50 years from now we can celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ with full equality gained. When no one is judged by the color of their skin nor other outward appearance but truly by the content of their character, only then we will have reached the mountain top.
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