By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
“If I could speak to my grandfather today, I would say that I am sorry that we are rededicating ourselves to the work of realizing your ultimate hidden dream,” said Yolanda Renee King, the granddaughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking at the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington on August 26.
She was one of the last three of a long and diverse list of speakers who participated in the event themed “Not A Commemoration But A Continuation” of the Civil Rights Movement Dr. King led before his death.
She spoke after her mother, Arndrea Waters King, who heads the Kings’ Drum Major Institute, and before Martin Luther King III, her father, and the Rev. Al Sharpton, CEO of the National Action Network (NAN), which organized this year’s event.
Speakers representing a broad rainbow of activists for gender, faith, labor, professional, civil rights, and political causes addressed the thousands who attended.
Banning books, reproductive rights and pay equity for women, federal efforts to fight discrimination and violence, voting rights and protections for all races, were all addressed by the speakers.
King’s granddaughter said that “sixty years ago Dr. King stood here and spoke about the triple evils of racism, poverty, and bigotry.
“Now racism and bigotry are still with us. Also, gun violence in our places of worship, our schools, and our shopping centers.”
She noted gun violence which plagues America today was an issue the earlier generation did not face, but her generation “cannot escape.”
King, who is 15-years-old said, “This summer my generation is worrying about global warming. Along with fighting racism and poverty, we must work to save our planet.”
She noted that while her generation has been defined as cynical, she said that cynicism is “not a luxury.”
“I believe that my generation will be defined not by apathy but activism,” she said.
Then she led a chant, “Spread the Word. Have you heard … Across the nation…We are going to be a great generation.”
Her brief speech summed up much of the words of the other speakers braving the 95-degree-plus heat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
A host of Black civil rights leaders and a multiracial, interfaith coalition of allies rallied on the same spot where as many as 250,000 gathered in 1963 for what is still considered one of the greatest and most consequential racial justice and equality demonstrations in U.S. history.
Arndrea Waters King, president of the Drum Major Institute, noted some forces made activism more daunting and threatened the achievements of the movement her father-in-law led in the ‘60s.
“We are here to liberate the soul of the nation, the soul of democracy from those forces who would have us all go backward and perish rather than go forward as sisters and brothers,” said King.
King said when she thought about giving up her activism, she thought about the Freedom Riders and SNCC activists and how they were abused and bombed out of houses.
She talked about recent acts of violence across the country, noting Neo-Nazis standing at the entrance of Disney World, and the woman who was shot hanging a Gay Pride Flag in front of her business in California.
Sixty years ago, women worked actively behind the scenes, helping to plan the event, but were largely absent from the speakers line up. According to the MLK Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, Publisher Daisy Bates, who was the Arkansas State NAACP President, and advisor to the Little Rock 9, spoke a few words to the crowd, and Josephine Baker delivered a two-minute speech, the longest given by a woman.
This year women not only led the organizational efforts, but many spoke on a variety of issues.
Amdrea King noted that “women are unwavering warriors in the struggle for equality.”
She used several references from the Bible to make her point; one when she said Moses could say ‘Let my people go’ because his sister Merriam saved him as an infant.
Another example was the Easter story. King pointed out that women prepared his body for burial, stood vigil at his tomb and saw him rise from the dead, “when all of the disciples had scattered after Jesus was crucified.”
MLKIII said he is concerned about the direction of the country.
“Instead of moving forward,” he said, “we seem to be moving backward. What are we going to do? We realize that it is we, the people, who can make changes and represent history in the right way.”
“We all need to be engaged,” he said. “My dad would say it is time to expand democracy, to ensure that voting rights are protected, that women and children are treated fairly … end gun violence.
“Then one day we will be a great nation. Because we are not personifying greatness now.”
Rev. Al Sharpton was the last to speak. He said, “This is a day to show our strength as thousands of you came out today … 60 years later (after the first March) to show a continuation of the movement.”
Sharpton said that affirmative action for college admissions is being challenged. He said next “they will go after our businesses” for those who believe in diversity.
“I want to announce today we will fight back,” he said. “We will not let you take away affirmative action.”
Sharpton said like doctors making a “house call … we will march … if you think you can take money out of our community.”
Sharpton said the March organized by him and MLKIII represented unity which right-wing politicians are seeking to disrupt between communities of Blacks, Latinos, women, the LGBTQ and other oppressed communities.
“We are going to march and gather by the thousands to show our unity so they will not be able to turn back the clock,” he said. “They want to stop us from voting … but we are going to vote anyhow … they are trying to put women back in the kitchen with an apron on … we are not going back into the kitchen and will not put the apron back on.”
“Sixty years ago, Dr. King talked about a dream,” Sharpton said. “Today we are the dreamers. We are facing the schemers on the other side. The schemers are trying to change voting rights … as the dreamers are standing up for it … dreamers want to protect a woman’s right to choose…while schemers are saying we should stop at 15 weeks.”
“The dreamers are seeking to protect Gay people,” he said, “while the schemers are saying you are something that is not to be tolerated.
“The dreamers are in D.C. today,” he continued, “while the schemers are being booked at the Atlanta-Fulton County Jail.”
“We have made progress, over the last 60 years, since Dr. King led the March on Washington,” said Alphonso David, president and CEO of the Global Black Economic Forum. “Have we reached the mountaintop? Not by a longshot.”
Andrew Young, who spoke at the 1963 March, recalled the challenges the movement faced. But he said progress was made over time as he organized his first voter registration drive in 1963 and was elected to the Georgia Legislature and U.S. Congress. He said he was the ambassador to the United Nations.
Civil Rights lawyer Ben Crump, known as “America’s Black Attorney General,” embraced his hard-earned moniker, whipping the crowd into a frenzy by insisting that he would fight “until hell freezes over … then we will fight on the ice.”
“As your attorney general, I declare now more than ever, that we must be unapologetic defenders of Black life, liberty, and humanity,” Crump said. “Just like they try to ban our Black history, we must tell them without Black history, you would not have American history. Just as the fight for the families of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tyre Nichols, and so many others, Americans must now fight for Black literature and culture.”
Margaret Huang, the president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center nonprofit civil rights advocacy group, told the crowd that the march 60 years ago opened doors and spurred new tools to fight discrimination.
But new laws throughout the country that “claw away at the right to vote” and target the LGBTQ community threaten to erase some of those gains,” Huang said. “These campaigns against our ballots, our bodies, our schoolbooks, they are all connected. When our right to vote falls, all other civil and human rights can fall too, but we’re here today to say, ‘not on our watch.’”
Democratic members of Congress, including South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn and New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, called for federal voting rights protections as some states continue to restrict election rules.
“We’re here today to fight for voting rights,” said Jeffries, the first Black congressperson to lead a major political party in Congress. “We’re here today to fight for civil rights. We’re here today to fight for reproductive rights. We’re here today to fight for workers’ rights.”