The things we forget about the March on Washington are the things we most need to remember 50 years on.
We forget that the majestically peaceful assemblage that moved a nation came in the wake of brutal resistance to civil rights and equality. And that there would be more to come.
A young organizer named John Lewis spoke at the march of living “in constant fear of a police state.” He would suffer more. On March 7, 1965, Lewis and his colleague Hosea Williams led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. They were met by mounted state troopers who would fracture Lewis’s skull. As we celebrate Lewis’s ultimate triumph and his distinguished career in the House of Representatives, we should never lose sight of all it took for him to get there.
We forget that the formal name of the great gathering before the Lincoln Memorial was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Jobs came first, an acknowledgement that the ability to enjoy liberty depends upon having the economic wherewithal to exercise our rights. The organizing manual for the march, as Michele Norris pointed out in Time magazine, spoke of demands that included “dignified jobs at decent wages.” It is a demand as relevant as ever.
Martin Luther King Jr. answered them in the oration that would introduce tens of millions of white Americans to the moral rhythms and scriptural poetry that define the African American pulpit.