Today, August 28, marks the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Attended by over a quarter million people, it was the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation’s capital, up until that time.
The March was planned and organized by some of the greatest leaders of the civil rights movement. Among them were A. Phillip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (AFL-CIO), Bayard Rustin, who guided the day-to-day planning of the March, Whitney Young, Jr. of the Urban League, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, and John Lewis of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
For many, of course, the March is best remembered, for the final speech of that day, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which remains among the most famous speeches in American history, the ‘I have a Dream Speech.’ We join today in calling for a renewal of Dr. King’s vision, and of that of the civil rights movement generally.
While we celebrate how far we have come in the fifty years since 1963, we know we face many challenges ahead, including some of the very same challenges faced by Dr. King and his generation.
We must never turn back. We agree with Dr. King, and all of the champions of freedom of our history that no American is free until all of us are free. We are proud to stand alongside all of the leaders of the American past, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who marched on Washington in 1963, and who sacrificed so much for the civil and human rights of all, and we honor those Americans who continue to work toward that vision, that we all should strive to carry on.
We know there remains much work to be done, and while we celebrate the past today, and the road we have traveled in the past five decades, we know there is work to be done. We agree with Dr. King that that work is log overdue, and we believe, to quote Dr. King, in the fierce urgency of now.
Today the Democratic Party of New Mexico calls on all of us to recommit ourselves to the great call of America’s history, to achieve the equality and dignity of all, and to win for ourselves and for our children the greatness Dr. King and his generation hoped for, the blessings of freedom and the security of justice.
In commemorating the 1963 March on Washington, we call on each of us to work toward those common values we, as Americans, most cherish. Today we should all rededicate ourselves to that dream, so eloquently inspired by Dr. King and his contemporaries, and promise to continue to work toward that day when every American is afforded the same opportunities and freedoms regardless of skin color, gender, religious belief, income, sexual orientation, ability or disability, or place of birth.
“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
“But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
“In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
“It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
“But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
“As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
“I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
“Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
“I have a dream today.
“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
“I have a dream today.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
“This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
“And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
“Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
“Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
“But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
“Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
“Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'”
Visit the National Park Foundation’s March on Washington Website
Selected Reading List
Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988
Clayborne Carson, ed. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Warner Books, 1998.
D’Emilio, John. Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003
Jones, William P. The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2013
King, Jr., Martin Luther and James M. Washington, ed. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: HarperOne, 2003, 2nd edition.
Lewis, John. Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.
Lewis, John; Andrew Aydin (Authors), Nate Powell (Illustrator) The March: Book 1. Marietta GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2013
Oates, Stephen B. Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King. New York: Harper and Row, 1983
Younge, Gary. The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013