"I have a dream."
Those words have sparked new ideas of the civil rights for a young nation. The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is Aug. 28, when the world first heard the famous "I Have A Dream" speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was those words and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that inspired the nation to pass the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. This bill has become the umbrella for other civil rights issues that followed the March on Washington.
Kathleen Krull notes in "What Was the March on Washington?" that the main focus of the Civil Rights movement was to acquire equal paying jobs and freedom. But freedom from what or whom and at what cost? Civil rights did not just begin in 1964; various people have been working on their own efforts of equal human rights for decades prior to the Civil Rights Act. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt supported civil rights. She worked with A. Philip Randolph to persuade her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt to establish equal pay for military personnel.
The March on Washington was not Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s idea, but the long desire of A. Phillip Randolph, whose persuasive tactics were so timed that not only did Roosevelt head off an earlier attempt, but President Harry S. Truman also signed the orders guaranteeing equal opportunities for all races in the military. One other freedom that was being sought to exercise was the right to vote. Krull notes that between 1882 and 1963 almost 3,500 (African-Americans) were lynched -- some were lynched as an example to keep folks from voting. Although Mr. Randolph, aged 70 at the time of the 1963 march, dreamed of the peaceful gathering, Krull notes it was Mr. Bayard Rustin who was responsible for orchestrating the details of the march from communications to transportation to public facilities and advertisements.
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The March on Washington was not the first protest or public speaking opportunity for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Krull notes that in 1963, Dr. King had 350 speaking engagements prior to the March on Washington -- this didn't include the sit-ins and non-violent marches in other states. The march was a huge success. According to Alan C. McLean in "Fact Files: Martin Luther King" more than a quarter of a million people showed up for a non-violent, one-mile march to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
Freedom historically has been defined by the Bill of Rights in the first amendment -- the freedom of speech, religion, press and petition, and implied in the preamble to the Constitution with the phrase "secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity." The right to that freedom was paid with a cost -- sometimes a simple compromise but more often that freedom was paid with blood. Although federal laws are in place to ensure equal pay across the racial groups, many Americans still struggle for the freedom to be recognized as an American, to vote equally, to have equal pay across genders, to have equal rights to a family, i.e., to be free from discrimination, harassment and imposed violence. In 1963, a button was made for folks to wear telling the world that they were at the March. In 2014, a coin for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be in circulation to recognize his non-violent actions to improve America.
To read more information on the March on Washington or to read more about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visit your nearest Beaufort County library or you may inquire at Penn Center about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s visit to Penn Center in 1963. I have a dream that one day we will all be able to say the words of J.W. Works: "Free at last, Free at last."
Maria Benac is the branch manager at St. Helena Island library.