In August 1963, I was 8 years old. My family was living in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York. While I have no specific memory of the details of the 1963 March on Washington during that time, I can remember seeing Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders on television, I can remember sensing change that was happening in New York and around the nation and I can vividly remember the difference between being in Brooklyn, New York during that summer and when I had to travel with my family to Richmond, Va., where my paternal grandmother lived. I can say that I always felt fortunate that my house seemed to be a place where ideas were discussed.
Maybe that's why in August 1983, I was on the front lines organizing buses to make the trip to Washington, D.C. for the 20th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. The theme of the 1983 March was "Jobs, Peace and Freedom." I was out on street corners, as an organizer with the New Alliance Party, urging communities across the city to sign-up to get on the buses. They were exciting times. We were, of course, challenging the administration of President Ronald Reagan on its domestic policies, particularly the impact that they were having on the Great Society programs that had been put into place by President Lyndon B. Johnson and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. They were ignoring the beginnings of the Aids epidemic; they were attacking organized labor and trying to weaken the American worker; not to mention their militarization of local police forces throughout the nation which was turning Black and Hispanic communities into militarized zones with the development of so-called "SWAT" teams.
We were rallying for peace and objecting to the continued support this nation was giving to the South African Apartheid government, its creation of pre-text to invade the Caribbean Island of Grenada, the work it was doing to destabilize the Central American nation of Nicaragua and its support of a fascist government in El Salvador. Many of us were also supporting the on-going liberation movements in Africa. We were standing against the continuation of nuclear proliferation; and continuing the organizing for a National Holiday in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.
On August 27, 1983, depending on whose count you believe, about 500,000 people attended the 20th Anniversary March. In August on the eve of the March, the House of Representatives passed its version of the King Holiday bill, the Senate would follow suit in October 1983 and President Reagan signed it into law on November 3, 1983. August 27th was a very hot day literally and figuratively. The speakers at the March continued to urge how the challenges had to be met if we were to make progress.
One of those speakers was the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson. He urged the crowd to continue to dream, but suggested, that "the dream of 1963 must be expanded to meet the realities of these times." As Reverend Jackson spoke, many in the crowd began the chant that is now historic, "Run Jesse Run." Jesse did run for president of the United States in 1984 and 1988; in so doing he transformed the American political landscape.
It was during this time that I first met a political organizer by the name of William Lynch, Jr. On this past Friday, August 9, word went out that William Lynch, Jr. had died. Better known as Bill Lynch, he was a force in New York and national politics. He was a great strategist and a true organizer. He cared deeply about the well-being of this nation, this state, this city, his community and his people. He had a great love for Harlem; the community he lived and worked in; for his family and his friends and colleagues. I was fortunate to work with him on occasion. I certainly counted him as a friend, he will be missed. Bill was the strategist in bringing David Dinkins to New York City Hall as the city's first (and only) Black mayor and for giving such direction to the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson. It was through these and other successful efforts, and the simple manner of his dress, that he earned the nickname "Rumpled Genius."
It was because of Bill's attention to detail in the organizing process that so many respected him and took his advice. As we continue to organize for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington, on August 24th of this year, Bill would be the first to urge us to keep the fight for progress going, to never give up or let up. In his honor, and for so many others who gave their lives to this struggle for a better and more inclusive America, we need to arrive in Washington, D.C. on the 24th by the hundreds of thousands, demanding the jobs we deserve, the rights which we must preserve and the freedom we still truly seek in this nation to be equal in opportunity, and in the protection of our lives, our property and our liberty.
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.