On Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood before a packed crowd of protesters who marched on Washington, D.C., to call for racial and economic justice in the United States. It is one of the most enduring images of the civil rights champion. He delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which is still quoted to this day.
But look beyond just the speaker at the crowd. A quarter-of-a-million Americans gathered near the Lincoln Memorial that day. They were Americans who had been living for decades under the oppression of repressive Jim Crow laws that made them much less than full citizens of this nation.
Inspired by King’s eloquent call for justice and equality, they and millions of Americans across the nation worked to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other legislation that made important, long overdue strides toward a better America.
As we celebrate King’s legacy today, it’s hard not to compare the march he led, the speech he gave and the people he inspired to the recent atrocity at the U.S. Capitol.
On Jan. 6, crowds gathered in Washington to hear a far less inspirational speech. The president of the United States whipped up a mob with unfounded lies and manufactured grievances. He exhorted the crowd to fight to stop the theft of an election that had not been stolen.
President Donald Trump called on them to march to the Capitol, leaving them with one final lie: That he would join them there.
Those inspired by King worked to change the laws of the United States to make them more just. Those incited by Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, killed a police officer, threatened members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence, and interfered in the constitutional process to transfer power peacefully.
The mob included members of the Proud Boys, with whom Washingtonians are all too familiar, and other violent white supremacist groups. Many of Trump’s supporters have tried to distract from the violence committed in his name by pivoting to last year’s Black Lives Matters protests, exaggerating the violence that occurred at some of them.
The desperation with which some people cling to Trump’s bigoted vision of America is at least partially a reaction to the historic, multigenerational, multiethnic movement represented at the BLM protests — a movement that strives to continue Dr. King’s necessary, but clearly unfinished work.
King’s dream might still be elusive, but it remains a righteous pursuit.