WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–A broad coalition of activists–now including Muslims and Arabs and other activists who were not a part of the original march–will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the great 1963 March on Washington with another march on Aug. 23, the namesake of the 1963 keynote speaker announced June 18.
His father’s “dream,” articulated in a dramatic speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which became the most memorable moment of that demonstration, has not been realized, Martin Luther King III–namesake of the slain civil rights leader–told supporters gathered in the Washington library named for his father.
“Poverty has grown, we know,” said Mr. King, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), standing beside a life-size color photograph of his father that was taken at the Lincoln Memorial the day of the historic 1963 march. “Racism is still in our midst, and militarism is the order of the day.”
This year’s march, he said, is part of a re-energized campaign to mobilize action and to register millions of voters, in order to have an impact in the 2004 congressional and presidential elections.
The 1963 March on Washington for jobs, peace and justice was the turning point in a bloody year in the Civil Rights Movement, when 250,000 people arrived into a tense nation’s capital, which had been officially closed down because of the fear of violence among the marchers.
Leading up to the march, non-violent demonstrators throughout the South had been shown on national television for months being beaten, bitten by vicious police dogs, and arrested by hostile, anti-Black police; and very little progress was being made to implement Supreme Court orders for school desegregation, or to pass civil rights, voting rights, fair-housing, or anti-job discrimination legislation.
Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Congress enacted Fair Housing Legislation.
“This is not a march about nostalgia,” said Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). “I do not wish for 1963. I wish for a better 2003, and I have yet to see it,” she said, advising activists who plan to attend this year’s march that they will be marching in a jurisdiction that itself remains a “colony” without any representation in the U.S. Senate and no voting representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
There was a hopeful tone struck by one veteran who is an expert on civil rights legislation.
“I come in a note of optimism that may go beyond the range of some that are gathered,” said Rep. John Conyers, dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and author of the legislation that declared Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday.
“There were only six mayors when we started out; there are 600 now. There were less than a dozen elected officials; there are 6,000 now. There were only a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus; there are 39 now. We have now, in addition to our allies of a generation ago, new constituencies, new ethnic organizations, new social organizations,” he said.
More than 100 groups are part of this year’s coalition. In addition to the SCLC, which Mr. King’s father also headed, traditional civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the National Urban League, will participate, and labor groups, headed by the AFL-CIO, will also participate, as they did in 1963.
In addition, new coalition members such as the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Muslim American Society Freedom Forum and the Arab American Institute will be a part of the mobilization that they hope will produce one of the largest Washington demonstrations in several years.
“So, even though we are in a period of turmoil in our national government, which has then created an international crisis, I still come with an optimism that we shall overcome,” said Mr. Conyers. “That we now have the collected experience, wisdom, commitment Ã‰ our collective attention to the questions of justice and peace is the only way that all of us will survive in the 251 nations that exist.”
For his part, the Rev. Fauntroy, co-chairman of the 1963 march, a former D.C. delegate to Congress, and now senior pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, called on young people to swell the ranks, pick up the torch, and to “hold it higher” than the older generation.
Despite a bomb threat that caused library officials to evacuate the building as the press conference drew to a close, march organizers remained confident and enthusiastic, promising to inspire the “Hip Hop Nation” with the spirit that once enthused the “Civil Rights Generation.”