Reflections on the March on Washington 50th Anniversary

My husband Bill and I were involved in a number of the many activities that took place commemorating the 1963 March on Washington.  What a blessing to be here in the District of Columbia to participate.  Here are some snapshots:

Most Moving

On Friday the 23rd, we attended an event presented by The Mamie Till Mobley Memorial & Trayvon Martin Foundations, and it was called “Civil Rights, Human Wrongs, and the Charge for Youth Leadership.” It featured a film by Keith Beauchamp, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” which had been updated to include a bit about the Trayvon Martin case, followed by a panel discussion with Emmett Till’s family and the parents of Trayvon Martin.

I am aware of how awful the murder of Emmett Till was, but it wasn’t until I saw the film, which took us through the ensuing trial and release of the murderers, that it really hit home to me how horrendous life was for black people living in the South in those days.  I thank my parents for moving from their home in Mississippi to raise us up in relatively safer northern Illinois.  Even though I experienced segregation and some hate growing up, it was nothing like the deep south. I was also moved by the strength of Emmett Till’s mother, for without her willingness to display the body of her son so brutally beaten and butchered, the murder would have passed by unnoticed by most of the rest of this country.

I am absolutely moved by the grace and strength of Mr. and Mrs. Martin and their younger son as they share the case of Trayvon’s murder with the world.  They have taken up the mantle just like Emmett Till’s mother, and have helped to make it clear to this country that laws like the Stand Your Ground Laws and the Stop and Frisk laws are tools that are used to target and brutalize people of color, especially our young men.

Most Inspirational

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Bill and I had decided we could not handle being out in the sun and on our feet from 8 am to 4 pm at the Saturday March for Jobs and Justice, so we waited until about 11 am to go.  I wasn’t sure if many people would attend–I just hoped there would be enough people to make a statement.  But even at that late time, we found the subway packed with people of all ages and races still on the way. Having to stand in line to get out of the subway moved me to tears.

On our way to the Lincoln Memorial, we saw a stream of people leaving, even though the crowd coming in was much larger.  Bill stopped to ask one woman why they were leaving, and the older woman said she’d been there since 6:30 am.  I’m convinced that there were more people there that day than could be counted, because the crowds were coming and going like that all day long.

I heard Eleanor Holmes Norton, who helped to organize the 1963 march, on a radio interview say that they had no idea how many people to expect when they planned that first march. Can you imagine how the organizers must have felt when they stood on the steps of the LIncoln Memorial and saw the great crowd of witnesses pouring in? The people have spoken!

Most Fun

On the way to the Lincoln Memorial in that first march, we found ourselves behind a group IMG_0174of United Auto Workers who were chanting and marching, so after a while we began to chant and march right along with them!  On the way back from the Lincoln Memorial, we were provided with some wonderfully jazzy music.  At one point, while waiting for the crowd to move forward, a white man in front of me began to kind of bounce, and another, older white man on the side started dancing, so I said “Let’s get it on” and started dancing, too, and so did a few of the other folks.  What fun!

Most thought-provoking

On Tuesday, we went to a panel discussion hosted by the Methodist Federation for Social Action entitled “Climate of Suspicion: The Criminalization of Race in America.” One of the panelists was Reverend Gil Caldwell, a good friend of Bill’s.  The discussion centered around the mass incarceration of people of color, so you know Bill and I were right at home.  Rev. Caldwell provided the necessary theological reflections for people of faith, Charles Thornton discussed his experience as a youth with no guidance, ending up in prison for 10 years for distributing an illegal drug before he was old enough to make a life for himself, and Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the ACLU, provided statistics and some information on actions.  This was an excellent panel, but what was most thought-provoking for me was our conversation with some of the other people there who were members of the MFSA.

We ate with a small group of them after the discussion before heading over to Asbury United Methodist church for a worship service.  We shared common concerns, with Gil helping to keep us focused on the larger moral, cultural and theological pictures.  One thought that came to me as we talked about greed being such a major cause of injustice is that maybe we ought to start being more intentional about teaching our children a better attitude towards money and materialism. Someone at that table suggested that the church is the place where that should happen.

I woke up the next morning, on the day of the commemorative march, with my mind on a phrase from our Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (which had been sung several times throughout the various events):  “lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.” Has the Christian church in the U.S. become drunk with the wine of materialism and greed without realizing it?  Food for thought.

Most Uplifting

We attended the Interfaith Service at Shiloh Baptist on Thursday morning before heading out to the commemorative march.  I was so happy to be there in a church packed with people of different faiths, ages and races, hearing from the march leaders and  blessed with star performances by the Shiloh Baptist Choir, the Children of the Gospel Choir, the Voices of Freedom, Lydia and Latrice Pace (who rocked the house with their song “There’s a King in You”) and the fantastic Angella Christie, who praised God on the saxophone in her rendition of “Total Praise” (If you’ve never heard of her, you ought to check her out).

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The discussion between Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. and his son, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III was absolutely wonderful!  The father passed the torch on to the son, symbolically climbing up stairs towards justice.  Those on the journey haven’t got to the top of the stairs, but the older ones have gone as high as they can climb. They must stop at their landing, having done much to break the bonds of racism and hatred, but now it is time for the younger leaders to move on up the stairs from that landing into the direction the stairs are leading today:  voting registration laws, stand your ground laws, mass incarceration of our youth, public school funding….you know the list.  You can see the whole of this wonderful service by clicking here.

Most Inspirational (part 2)

To our surprise again, the March on Thursday the 28th was just as packed as the first, even though the threat of rain pervaded the day. It was so packed that we decided not to wait the hours it would have taken to get through the security checkpoint.  We made our statement by attending for a while, then we went back home to watch our President’s Speech on TV. While he was inspiring, as usual, I had hoped he would provide some concrete plans or legislation that would help deal with the issues we’re facing.  But the more I thought about what he said, the more I got what he was saying.  He’s telling us that it’s up to us to make the difference that we need to make.  It’s up to the people to not only march, but to take the necessary action to make change happen, like Dr. King and the other civil rights leaders did in 1963.

We’ve spoken with our feet.  Now we need to speak through our email and internet presence, through our letters and phone calls to federal, state and local representatives, through our community activities and our continued engagement with each other. Now we must speak truth to move the “powers that be” to make this wonderful country live up to it’s Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Amen.

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

It seems every time I start to write about ways we can all become involved, I have to struggle with what to say and where to direct you.  One reason is that I know that it’s much easier to talk about doing something than doing it. It’s easy to talk, much harder to “put your money where your mouth is.”  Sometimes the issues seem so big and we seem so small that we don’t know where to begin putting our figurative money, so we just keep on not doing. We find ourselves thinking “What can I do, I”m just one person?” and so we don’t try. 

It’s easy to write about what’s wrong with our society, much harder to take the time to become involved in making real change happen. It’s easier to give a few bucks to a homeless person than it is to demand that local authorities make low cost housing a priority.  It’s easier to go down to help with the food pantry’s weekly food distribution than it is to demand that government increase minimum wages so that people who work full time will not still be poor. It’s easier to be involved with an post-prison support program than it is to demand that the state provide more support for at-risk children when they are young in order to help keep them out of prison.

It seems to me like that’s what I’ve been doing with this blog–writing and talking, but not getting anything done.  The regular routines of life seem to demand my attention away from doing even this small thing. And this week is a prime example.  I’ve been busy with my son and his wife and children and their cousins who are all in town for just a little while longer (not long enough) , as well as preparing for a party I’m hosting for my good friend of 34 years (my, how time flies!), Deborah Clark, to celebrate her retirement and her birthday.  So now I’m a day late, and I feel like a dollar short, in getting this post out.  I apologize for that.

But I have been thinking mainly about one thing we can do that I believe can make a difference; one thing that I surely hope as many of you as are able will try your best to join me in doing.  I really hope you will find a way to attend the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

What better time to march on our nation’s capitol than now, when civil rights are again under assault?  What better time to honor the legacy of Dr. King than now, when the color of our children’s skin is still a determining factor in whether they can be shot and killed without punishment?  What better time to March on Washington than now, when we have our first Black President who is working so hard to help the poor and middle class with things like health care, job creation and funds for preschool, yet who must operate under such unprecedented assault by some members of Congress?

I can’t think of a better time than now for those of us who stand with our president and for civil rights and justice to gather in numbers in our nation’s capitol.  And numbers do matter.  Having large numbers of people attending can make this event historic. Having large numbers of people of all colors, all faiths, all walks of life who come here to march because they want this country to be even better than it is would make a important statement not only to those in our deadlocked Congress but to the world as well. Every one of you is needed for such a time as this!

So here’s some information to help you do this:   For the official sight for the anniversary March, click here, where you can register to attend. You will see that activities are planned for the week of August 21 through the 28th, the day of the commemorative march. Some of the many interesting activities taking place during that week include a “Global Freedom Festival” on the Mall (Between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Building) during the week, a march for jobs and justice on Saturday the 24th, a praise and worship service on Wednesday the 21st, and other training conferences and roundtable discussions.  The groups leading these efforts are The King Center and The Coalition for Jobs, Justice and Freedom (National Council of Negro Women, SCLC, National Urban League, National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, National Action Network, National Council of Churches, Children’s Defense Fund).

More information can be found on the website of the National Action Network (Rev. Al Sharpton’s organization), on this website created by the Center for the Study of Civil and Human Rights Laws, and another one here, as well.

For my family and friends who do not live in DC, we have a couple of extra beds here at the house–let us know if you want to stay with us–first come, first serve!.  For my friends who live in the DC area, please, please, please invite your friends and family to join you here!

This is something we can do, now.  And by doing it, we’ll find our voice to speak truth to power in unity with others.  We’ll hopefully become energized to break away from our routines and sacrifice some of the time God has blessed us with to make a difference in this world.   Maybe we’ll find an organization or group to join and stay involved with after the march is over. This is one way each of us can put our money where our mouth is.

I hope you’ll try your best to come. If your first response is to say to yourself “but I can’t because….”, I hope you’ll think again.   But if you really can’t, there will always be other things you can do……

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