On Aug. 28, 1963, more than 200,000 mostly black citizens came to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to demand jobs and freedom. They came under the threat of death from those in America who wanted to maintain the status quo of Jim Crow. To keep America divided between black and white. To preserve the legal and actual segregation that existed in much of the American South. To deter any challenges to the de facto segregation that exited in the balance of the United States. Those that came understood that change was up for grabs. They could show the determination and will that no force would keep them from continuing their demands. They would make clear that no sacrifice would be too much to endure because ultimately it was better to live free.
In 1963, the right of non-white citizens to attend the best schools in the country was not a right at all. In 1963, the right of non-white citizens to live where they wanted to live was not a right at all. In, 1963, the right of non-white citizens to compete for equal opportunity in the work place was not a right at all. In 1963, the right of non-white citizens to equal accommodations in public facilities, and on trains, planes and buses, was not a right at all. In 1963, the right of citizens to marry whom they wished was not a right at all. In 1963, the right of non-white citizens to vote was not a right at all. So, in coming to Washington, D.C., against all odds, and with every impediment, they came. In coming they demonstrated that their movement could not be turned around. They demonstrated that their dream for equality under the law was real and substantive.
In response, the United States Congress responded with legal changes from civil and voting rights to Medicare and Medicaid, to Fair Housing and job creation in the form of model cities and other programs. America was progressing.
Whether it was the assassins' bullets, or the foreign entanglements like Vietnam, American progress slowed and we entered a period of re-entrenchment. Words and phrases like affirmation action, a women's right to choose, public education, job equality, and unions, became bad words. America walked into the wilderness of dysfunction and disagreement.
On Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, as we entered the week that will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the children of those who made the sacrifice 50 years ago returned to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. They came in the same tens of thousands to let the world and the nation know they were prepared to make the same sacrifices that their parents and grandparents made to bring progress back to America. To move the nation forward and demonstrate to the congress of the United States, that they must act again with the same determination they acted with 50 years ago.
These several hundred thousand that jammed the mall on this past Saturday faced new challenges of a stalled economy that was under employing that nation's workforce. They were facing challenges to public education and public employee unions. They were demanding an end to the new Jim Crow that the country's criminal justice system seems to represent. They were pleading for gun control that would bring relief to the dangerous levels of death of young black and Hispanic youth due to the illegal trafficking of guns in poor urban communities. They were demanding that a women's right to choose remain protected and that the right to marriage be recognized for all, including, same-sex marriages. That this country reform its immigration system to stop discriminating against those who came to this country to find life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and most importantly to demand that the right of every American to vote be fully protected and unencumbered.
Some that attended were the children of icons like Martin L. King III and his sister Bernice King. Some came that had come in 1963, a little older but with the same vigor of youthful determination like Raglan George Jr., now a leader of one of the union locals of AFSCME; or Beverly Alston, who is one of the original organizers with the National Action Network. Others were new youth leaders like the Dream Defenders who occupied the Florida Statehouse in the aftermath of the verdict acquitting George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin; or Mary Pat who has been organizing youth against gun violence. Myrlie Evers the widow of NAACP organizer Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in June 1963 for leading voter registration efforts in Mississippi, was there because she couldn't be there 50 years ago. Reverend Al Sharpton, the president and founder of the National Action Network and host of MSNBC's Politics Nation was there and captured the moment when he declared that we will continue our fight for a new America.
On Aug. 24, 2013, we gathered because we know that we still have mountains to climb and valleys' to cross. We gathered because we still have hills to conquer. We gathered to demonstrate that we have the sustained will to work for what is right, to stand for what is just and to commit to an America that works for all Americans. This week is not about just commemorating the past, but realizing we still have dreams to fulfill.
Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice.
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