Part 1 of a 3-part series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 “March on Washington” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
By Rev. Dwight Webster
“We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.
Out from the gloomy past, ’til now we stand at last,
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.”
— James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson — “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (1899/1900)
La plus ça change la plus ça reste le même.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”
–Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr — 1808-90
It was not Martin Luther King Jr. who organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Bayard Rustin and A. (or Asa) Philip Randolph actually made it happen, though one rarely hears them given the credit.
It’s ironic, as we view the film, The Butler, that one the most powerful men in the country was Randolph, who organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters — this nation’s first predominantly Black labor union. Many Black men were able to support and advance their families because of the work done in that capacity. Yet there are those who complain about a movie where the main protagonist is a servant.
King said,” Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” With nonemployment here around 52 percent of the Black male population, according to Dr. Petrice Sams-Abiodun, it seems that the employment solution is not rocket science.
Randolph proposed and planned a march on Washington as early as 1941. King stood on his shoulders at the podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
One of the reasons we don’t know that it was the genius of Bayard Rustin that spearheaded the organizing of the 1963 March, was because he pursued an openly gay lifestyle, which other leaders of the movement were loathe to defend. It’s ironic that the Washington, D.C. Mayor’s Office would dis-invite award-winning gospel music giant Pastor Donnie McClurkin recently, because McClurkin maintains that he was delivered/cured of homosexuality. In any case, Rustin is slated to receive, posthumously, the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In 1963, because of continuing discrimination and segregation, education was still separate and unequal.
Today our children’s educational experience may or may not be separate, but few can deny that they are still unequal. Differently-abled students are yet lacking the attention and action that the Americans with Disabilities Act demands that they receive and deserve. Moreover, what does school choice mean when the so-called best schools are few and already filled? Why can’t all of the schools educate at that level? Is it because the school-to-prison pipeline requires identifying potential recruits as early as third grade?
And how is it that there can be a demand for quality education, when the Louisiana Department of Education State Superintendent can be in office without having had the credentials for the position? I guess it’s not what you know, but who you know.
Equity and equal access to voting has been severely impaired by the recent Supreme Court ruling on Section 4 (and consequently Section 5) of the Voting Rights Act. States like Texas and North Carolina have since rushed to pass measures amounting to voter suppression. Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Roberts have ignored the fact that the playing field is not level, despite the presence of a Justice Thomas.
The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.
Resilience and the spiritual resolve to resist and persist from slavery to freedom; to be knocked down, but not knocked out; and to let nobody turn us ’round was sung in the first person but is a communal affirmation held by our Black forebears and embraced on the eight-year anniversary of Katrina and the levee failure echoing Psalm 124:
“If it had not been for the Lord on our side
Tell me where would I be? Where would I be?
He kept my enemies away,
He brought the sunshine to a cloudy day,
He rocked me in the cradle of his arm.
When He knew I had been battered and scorned.
So, if it had not been for the Lord on [our] side…?”
–Margaret Pleasant Douroux
Born in Philadelphia, Penn., Dwight Webster has been the senior and founding pastor of Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans for 24 years. In 2005, Rev. Webster formed with Civil Rights veteran, C.T. Vivian, ChurchesSupporting Churches, a post-Katrina long-term recovery organization for pastors, churches and community in New Orleans. Currently, he serves as executive director. He also co-founded the Jeremiah Group, a broad-based, faith-based ecumenical organization, affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation that “seeks the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7) of New Orleans.
Rev. Webster has served on the faculties of Tulane University, Loyola University and its Institute of Ministry, Xavier University’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies, and Delgado Community College in New Orleans. He served as the director of the Southern University at New Orleans Center for African and African American Studies for seven years. His first New Orleans appointment was university chaplain and assistant professor of religion at DillardUniversity.
Rev. Webster was the interim director and interim dean of the program of Black Church Studies at Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Crozer Theological Seminary in Rochester, N.Y. He also taught at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.
He is a graduate of Howard University and Colgate Rochester Divinity School. Rev. Webster received his Ph.D. degree from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., in 2011. In 2009, Dr. Webster was awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the Christian Bible College of Louisiana.
Rev. Dr. Webster and his wife, Trudell have been married for 31 years and have four sons: Dwight-Nathaniel, Toussaint, Kwame and Amir. They family was expanded by the addition of their granddaughter, Aubrey Gail Webster, born in 2008.