Faith & Values
Starting today, thousands of people will gather at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. captivated this country with his now famous
“I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King’s son, Martin Luther King III, will speak today, and the celebration will culminate on Aug. 28 with President Obama addressing the crowd.
It was estimated that 250,000 attended that first march. The full name of the rally was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In 1963, the embodiment of evil was racial hatred.
Sadly, white Southern Christians led the charge for segregation, lynching, bombings and disenfranchisement. I am still baffled at how a faith that is rooted in love, justice and forgiveness could be twisted to support such ugliness.
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The spiritual high and equal-rights momentum of the March on Washington was dealt a setback when, just 2½ weeks later, four little girls were killed and dozens injured when the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., was bombed. The church had been a meeting place for leaders to organize the civil-rights movement.
A movement built on justice and doing the right thing can be thwarted, but it cannot be stopped. Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
In the 50 years since the march, federal legislation was enacted to guarantee equal accommodations and voting rights. What was unimaginable 50 years ago is today’s reality; the president of the United States is an African American.
Race relations are better today, but there is much room for improvement. Inequalities still exist in health care and education based on skin color. Young black men and Latinos are still targets for racial profiling. The slaying of Trayvon Martin in Florida and New York’s unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policies are cases in point.
This country’s prison economy warehouses more people of color than population percentages would suggest. While racial pride and acceptance of others have improved, it is a fallacy that we live in a post-racial society.
This country’s civil-rights movement started in churches. Fueled by their belief that God is on the side of the oppressed, pastors and lay leaders led the fight for voting rights, jobs and personal freedom.
As people of faith, our work is not done. Once again, voting rights are being threatened by voter-ID legislation. Unemployment among youth and communities of color is still too high, and too many Christian leaders are dragging their heels regarding civil rights for same-sex couples.
In the past 50 years, we have come a long way toward eliminating hatred and injustice based on difference.
If the primary organizer and deputy director of the March on Washington, Bayard Rustin, organized today’s march and rally he would receive due recognition for his organizational genius. His sexual orientation as a gay black man would be a nonissue.
Young people today cannot understand the depth of hatred that tarnished this country’s history, based solely on skin color. Yet similar hatred is seen around the globe based on religion, caste/class and sexual orientation.
We pray that societies that practice such deplorable discrimination will soon realize that all are precious in God’s sight. As painful as it is to remember our history, we must do so lest we repeat its ugliness.
Dr. King’s dream has yet to be fully realized, but we are on our way. As I remember the March on Washington and look back on the past 50 years, I am convinced that love, justice and freedom ultimately will win.
The Rev. Patricia L. Hunter is an associate in ministry at Mount Zion Baptist Church and senior benefits consultant for American Baptist Churches in the USA. Readers may send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.