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1963: March on Washington

Fifty years ago, a throng of 200,000 people — both black and white — descended on the Washington Monument to call for a program of civil rights and equality, which this nation had failed to achieve despite its lip service to lofty ideals. Our nation’s pledge of allegiance, which every school child is taught to memorize from the age of five, was written in 1892. It  states, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” 

Then, as now, there were many who insisted on defining those words in their own self-serving terms. In 1963, “liberty and justice for all” did not extend to anyone whose skin was not white. This was not a philosophical difference of opinion. It got ugly, violent and degrading. If you made it through school without learning what it was like in this country for a black person in 1926, 1937, 1940, 1950, 1963, 1975, or 2008, go see Lee Daniels’ “The Butler.” If you wonder for a minute why the election of a black president in 2008 was a significant moment in so many lives… go see “The Butler.”  Better yet, watch some of the coverage of the March on Washington tomorrow.

The march will be covered by all the news outlets tomorrow. Most will be showing old news coverage of that day.

It is worth a look,

if only as a reminder of where we were then and the changes wrought in this battle to declare a basic truth: that liberty and justice for all does not require interpretation.

The words speaks for themselves.

A reporter covering the event for the New York Times, E.W. Kenworthy wrote this:

  “The day dawned clear and cool at 7 a.m. the town had a Sunday appearance, except for the shuttle buses drawn up in front of Union Station, waiting.

By 10 a.m. there were 40,000 on the slopes around the Washington Monument. An hour later the police estimated the crowd at 90,000.

And still they poured in.

Because some things went wrong at the monument, everything was right. Most of the sage and screen celebrities from New York and Hollywood who were scheduled to begin entertaining the crowd at 10 did not arrive at the airport until 11:15.

As a result the whole affair at the monument grounds began to take on the spontaneity of a church picnic. Even before the entertainment was to begin, groups of high school students were singing with wonderful improvisations and hand-clapping all over the slope.

Civil rights demonstrators who had been released from jail in Danville, Va., were singing

Move on, Move on,

Till all the world is free.

 And members of Local 144 of the Hotel and Allied Service Employees Union from New York City, an integrated local since 1950, were stomping:

Oh, freedom, we shall not,

we shall not be moved,

Just like a tree that’s planted by the water.

 Then the pros took over starting with the folk singers. The crowd joined in with them. Joan Baez started things rolling with ‘the song’ – ‘We Shall Overcome.’

Oh deep in my heart I do believe

We shall overcome some day

And Peter, Paul and Mary sang, ‘How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky.’

And Odetta’s great, full-throated voice carried almost to Capitol Hill: ‘If they ask you who you are, tell them you’re a child of God.'”

The full text of his piece can be found HERE

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