Part 3 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 William H. Barnwell

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his culture-changing “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., 50 years ago on Aug. 28. Most Americans revere that speech today; conservatives as well as liberals quote from it. But it wasn’t always that way. A generation ago my people in Charleston, S.C., and a great many people around the nation were convinced that Dr. King was a Communist. A “Commonist,” as they frequently called him.

August 1963 was a painful time for so many of us. We found ourselves in a quite different place from many friends and family members who had given us so much love. “How could you!” my dear mother said over and over again when she realized I had joined the edge of the civil rights movement.

William H. Barnwell

William H. Barnwell

It is important that we make a point of remembering Dr. King’s whole speech that day. A hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, King said, “We must face the tragic fact that the Negro is not free.” In 1963, too many Americans were in denial or did not care that so many African-Americans were not free. But as President John Adams said two centuries ago, “Facts are stubborn things.” We, the American people, are learning, but oh how slowly. Michelle Alexander points out in her recent book, “The New Jim Crow,” that there are more African-Americans in prison or under the control of the criminal justice system than there were slaves in 1850.

Later in the speech, King says, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” How important these words are for us now in our terribly divided nation. On controversial issues, King is saying, let us be driven by our logic, our understanding of history, our commitment, our faith or philosophy — but not by our hatred.

He then says, “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” If you look closely at pictures of the more than 200,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial that late August day 50 years ago, you will see that most everyone is dressed up. It was like everyone was going to church — and in a way they were.

“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair,” King says. How easy it would have been for him and so many civil rights leaders to have given up. Progress seemed so slow, as it does on so many issues today when our people seek justice and well-being for all in our land. Read More…

Part 2 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 Francis Walter

In 1963, I was a 31-year-old white boy from Arkansas. I was also the co-rector of an Episcopal parish, Grace Church, Van Vorst, Jersey City, N.J. Grace was thefirst of the Episcopal Church’s inner city Episcopal parishes. Membership was composed of African American families from the American South, Puerto Ricans, and a smattering of white people.

When news of The March came to Jersey City, my fellow priest John Luce suggested I go on the Grace Church bus because he had been to Selma. Whether our church rented the bus or we were simply assigned to one of the many going from New Jersey, I do not recall.

This is the time to praise, to stand in awe of the organizational power of Bayard Rustin. That was borne in every one of us as our bus joined hundreds, maybe thousands, drawn up in battle formation close to the Mall.

From the time we left our bus until we returned to Jersey City, we were both free and held in the embrace of an organizational net arranged by Bayard Rustin, giving us power through united action — power to demand long-denied national freedoms and equity which were denied then, and unfulfilled even now. Read More…

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

Rev. Dwight Webster

Rev. Dwight Webster

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. Read More…