MARCH ON WASHINGTON: June 22, 1963 March on Washington, left and August 26, 2023 the Commemoration of the 60th-year anniversary of the March on Washington. PHOTOS COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA AND NAACP
This week we reflected and paused in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. In a powerful display of unity, 250,000 Black Americans and allies gathered in Washington D.C. where democracy, freedom, and civil rights for America’s citizens are legislated nearly every day.
On that day in 1963 thousands gathered to demand the end of inequality and racial discrimination in employment. But of course, that march meant more than that. It was a public cry of a very important segment of the U.S. population. It was the supernatural demand of millions of kidnapped and enslaved Africans coupled with the literal voices of their descendants to be respected as equals by the progeny of the enslaver.
However glorious and monumental the March on Washington was in 1963, the luster of that event lost its shine as the 1960’s continued and concluded. The next month, four beautiful Black girls preparing for Sunday school services were killed in a church bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.
In 1965, civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson was beaten and murdered by an Alabama state trooper, which spearheaded the Selma-Montgomery march led by then youthful John Lewis. The march was preempted twice. The ﬁrst ended in what is now infamously known as “Bloody Sunday.” El Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X) was murdered in the same month as Jackson. Dr. King would be assassinated in 1968.
Poverty in Black America, especially in the South, was at record proportions. Although on paper, the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and the Fair Housing Act in 1968, were giant leaps in the ﬁght to end systemic racism, in reality, collectively they only created a ripple, not a tsunami of change.
For 60 years we have grappled with the legacy of the “March on Washington.” It was the successful vision and hard work of the late civil and gay rights pioneer Bayard Rustin that led to what has become the blueprint for every social justice organization since the march. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech has been the subject of, and dissected by authors, scholars, and historians. It has been the subject thousands of times throughout the years in books, research articles and think tanks. It is iconic. But while the speech is idyllic it has yet to be realized. It is still just a dream.
The question that has arisen over the years regarding the March on Washington is how long do we continue to wait for America to bestow upon Black America what is rightfully and morally just? How long should we ask for reparations? Is marching null and void?
Has marching really improved our situation as Black Americans? The uniﬁed movement of a body of people in one singular moment has tremendous and worthwhile signiﬁcance. The importance and protected right of assembly is inscribed in the Constitution so marching is a very relevant part of American democracy.
Yet the volcanic energy that is pulsing in the Black community as of late is the act of deﬁance. Two recent incidents have helped to elucidate this. For example, the riverboat brawl was heard across the country. In that singular episode, we saw Black people run, and swim, to assist the Black co-captain of the Birmingham riverboat who was attacked by a group of white men. Now historically, we all know how this should have turned out. A group of white men attacking a Black man unjustiﬁably and unarmed in this country always ended in murder of said Black man. But passion ignited and activated Black people in the vicinity that day.
Fast forward to Jacksonville this week when Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to make a visit to the majority Black Floridian locale to offer words of “sympathy” and “well wishes” and “prayers” to the community and the families of the three Black victims who were deliberately gunned down in a Dollar General by a racist white gunman.
To think that Gov. DeSantis went along with the idea to hop on a plane and briefly leave his uninspired campaign tour to console the angry Black community of Jacksonville after what he has done and continues to do to Black Floridians legislatively is mind-boggling. But what was truly inspiring was the chorus of boos that came from the audience. Some would say that it was disrespectful to boo the governor. Based on DeSantis’ latest targeted hits on Black Floridians called “anti-woke” and “antiwoke policies” he had to have known that he would not be received well in Jacksonville.
DeSantis was not in Jacksonville because he cared one iota about the Black victims in that Dollar General. It was a photo op for a campaign going down in flames and Jacksonville residents knew that.
This obvious case of open dissent and in- your- face deﬁance is part of the volcanic energy that is beginning to erupt. Black America is becoming activated. Dozens of organizations are canceling scheduled conventions to Florida and while Florida Republicans downplay the cancellations on Sunday political shows, the truth of the matter is Florida is losing millions of dollars in revenues.
History has a way of repeating itself. Black southerners are not waiting for a march to voice their displeasure. In small, but major ways, the Black South is rising. Perhaps this is what the legacy of the “March on Washington” sixty years later is, unmistakably: Our blueprint and inspiration to transﬁgure its importance and symbolism, remixed for 2023.
There is no doubt that the issues we are facing in Black America today are generated by the same enemies from 1963. Different faces, same white sheets. However, the more we react in unison and with boldness regarding systemic and institutional racism, the more we fuel a rising volcanic energy that will transform America. As Malcolm X once poignantly expressed, the power keg was lit. For years it has smoldered. Slowly it is being re-activated.