PIECES OF THE DREAM
re print ABDN PRESS
(Washington, D.C.) Almost forty years to the day of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a crowd of a few thousand gathered in the nation's capitol to recall, reflect, and attempt the resuscitation of a coalition of activists with diverse causes...some now on life support. On that afternoon, forty years ago, a youthful southern Black Baptist preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr., stepped to the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and began his remarks with, AI am happy to join you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. By the time the blazing sun began its descent, casting late afternoon shadows through the stone garden resting places of Arlington and Northern Virginia, King's I have a Dream oration had red-lettered the day.
Bob Dylan was there. Lena Horne was there, as was Paul Newman, Heston, Brando, Josephine Baker, and many more ,Afresh from narrow jail cells. Julian Bond, a former Georgia state legislator and now Chair of the NAACP was there and shared with ABDN Journal that he Ahad the best job of the day...serving cold soft drinks to the celebrities. AI got to keep my arms, up to the elbows, in ice cold water for the better part of the day, a graceful Bond said.
Forty years in some genres can be a long time. Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison never saw 40. Neither did the vast majority of those whose birth names are etched into the black marble slabs of the Viet Nam War Memorial abutting the site of the demonstrations. Yet the enthusiasm and sense of determination of those recently gathered in renewal, provided a delicious bite of promise and piece of the dream.
The August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom came on the heels of bloody engagements through out the south...as well as economic violence in northern cities. There were calls for passage of the then pending Civil Rights Bill, desegregation of schools and housing, job training and elimination of racial discrimination in hiring, among other issues. The March had been initiated by A. Phillip Randolph, a labor leader and vice-president of the AFL-CIO. Randolph was joined in his effort by the leadership of five major civil rights organizations in the United States. Whitney Young, National Urban League; Roy Wilkins, National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); James Farmer, Congress of Racial Equality(CORE); John Lewis, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and King, Southern Christian Leadership Conference(SCLC). This was the so-called Abig-six@.
The 40th Anniversary found a loose knit coalition somewhere in the area of 100 groups, with Dr. Kings son, Martin Luther King, III, front and center...to the point of being almost apologetic, if not determined. He is sincere...in more than a Promethean fashion. African American males coming of age can rarely afford the Holden Caufield experience, even when those with middle-class parents find that preferable to the fraternities of Crips or Bloods. Those around King, III couched the 40th Anniversary as an event bringing together the ASit-in Generation and the AHip-Hop Generation, a kind of Baez meets Grand Master somebody. Those with years in the trenches eerily attempted to balance the need for increased voter registration with its established rich legacy. Jesse Jackson, in comments to a gathering of SNCC veterans said, A I'd rather have an old Thurgood Marshall than a young Clarence Thomas.
A transference of Athe movement was not the order of the day as much as a welcome aboard theme with most. Not long ago the young King had faced a challenge to his leadership and was rescued by the old guard, including Jackson.
While the SCLC held the Anniversary primarily to symbolism, the unveiling of a plaque honoring MLK, Jr...prayer vigils...a poetry jam, a more aggressive group, By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) took to the streets of Washington demanding the defeat of anti-affirmative action initiatives and a national boycott of Coors Beer, which, they claim, is a major financial contributor to the attack on affirmative action and civil rights. In early Spring, BAMN was instrumental in turning out over 50,000 demonstrators near the Supreme Court calling for support of affirmative action.
Shanta Driver, BAMN's fiery spokesperson, addressed a gathering of student and labor activists at the gates of Howard University prior to a five mile march to the Lincoln Memorial. AWe are the leadership of the new civil rights movement. You are the builders of the nations future. There are still people in this society@, Driver continued stacatto like, Athat are going to fight to realize the dream...not just commemorate what Martin Luther King stood for, but also make clear that there=s a movement in place, a new civil rights movement, to realize the dream. Across town, at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, former SNCC activists came together to review their expectations in 1963 and compare the struggles of 2003. John Lewis, now a Congressman from Georgia, and the sole survivor of the big six, was joined by Rev. Walter Fauntroy, a former delegate from the District of Columbia, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the current delegate from the District and others. ABearing Witness to a Dream Deferred, the forum was titled. Cong. Lewis (D-Ga.) now serves on the Democratic Steering Committee and as a young student participated in the 1961 Freedom Rides and endured savage beatings from racist mobs. Lewis is the real deal. AYoung Black men and women, young people, young children 7 and 8...9, 10, 11 and 12 years old were being arrested, jailed. Bull Connor, the police commissioner used the dogs and fire hoses on people, a visibly moved Lewis spoke. AMedgar Evers was assassinated...and then you had President Kennedy speaking to the nation...when he said the issue of race is a moral issue. On June 14, 1963 I was elected chair of ...SNCC. Eight days later I was invited to a meeting here in Washington at the White House....and it was in that meeting A. Phillip Randolph...spoke up and said. 'Mr. President, the Black masses are restless and we're going to march on Washington. And you could tell by the very body language of President that he didn't like what he heard. He started moving in his chair, one side to the other side, and he said >Mr. Randolph, if you bring all of these Negroes to Washington, and all of these Negroes in the streets, we will never be able to get a Civil Rights Bill from the congress. Mr. Randolph responded, AMr. President, Negroes are already in the streets."
Forty years later there was no such meeting. There was not even a message or messenger from the un-elected current occupant of the White House...something which should be unsettling, at best, to the thoughtful.
In a brief walk with this reporter, Cong. Lewis shared his concerns over the current state of affairs. AForty years later we need to pick up where Dr. King left off, and that is to humanize the American economy to meet basic human needs of our people. People need a little better of an income, people need jobs. Too many people are losing jobs. A large segment of the population is under paid, some receiving starvation wages, they're not receiving a livable wage. That's what we need to take care of. Lewis responded to a query on the recent California re-call initiative with, AIf that trend picks up and grows, it will make people much more cynical and less interested in the political process. We must find a way to put an end to what is happening in California, it must not be allowed to spread.
Political Science Professor Ron Walters of the University of Maryland expounded on this subject. It's probably a new trend because its a way that the Republican Party has of trying to seize power at the local level. They have done a good job, the radical right, seizing power of the national government. They now control the Supreme Court, the White House and both the House and the Senate, and that's a very formidable victory for them, said Walters.
Rev. Jesse Jackson echoed this perspective. Briskly heading up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, while pausing for photos with and signing autographs for, Jackson said, AThis is another attempt by the right-wing to de-stabilize government. They lost the election and this is an act to sabotage democracy. He was joined by former Ambassador and U.S. Senator Carol Mosely Braun, now a Democratic candidate for President., who referred to the re-call as a, Ahideous attempt to take power and create political chaos and to dis-enfranchise California voters, and I hope that it's rejected resoundingly by California votes. It=s not a matter of personality, it's whether or not an election will be allowed to stand or a coup de etat be allowed to happen.
The romantic tradition which tends to surround and enfold revolutions and movements appears to have taken a pass in the ameri-politic where issues of race are concerned. But most of the pieces of Dr. King's dream lay in jangled heaps across the lay of the land. Perhaps it is because of the close configuration of class and promise. The current Secretary of State is a Black man. The National Security Advisor to the President is a Black woman. The head of Time-Warner is African American as are a host of corporate directors and so-called Apublic intellectuals. Yet King's dream remains in pieces...much of it unfulfilled, in spite of Carter, his grits and grins and our collective collision with the Clintons. Perhaps a celebration is in order...one which shares a common vision, common goals, and time lines that transcend age and gender. After all...it's America...40 years late...peace out.