Calling back on the days of true grit and undeniable courage, President Barack Obama echoed the chambers of the hundreds of thousands of people who marched to Washington, D.C. 50 years ago, looking for redemption in the form of education, employment and fair housing.
The March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs in 1963 was about a movement making change.This wasn’t about one man. This movement was about a group of people looking to make America a better place to live. The Civil Rights Movement spurred the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be passed.
It was a movement that pushed for equality and fair justice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the leader of that movement, formulating a speech that is referred to as the greatest since Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. Obama re-visited King’s “I Have a Dream” soaring speech about jobs, fair pay, housing, education and equal treatment for all Americans.
The highlight of President Obama’s speech centered on highlighting the many nameless men and women who were as much as part of the struggle as Dr. King and any other civil rights leaders during that time period.
“We rightly and best remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory that day, how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions; how he offered a salvation path for oppressed and oppressors alike. His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time,” Obama said.
“But we would do well to recall that day itself also belonged to those ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books, never got on TV,” President Obama went on to say. ” Many had gone to segregated schools and sat at segregated lunch counters. They lived in towns where they couldn’t vote and cities where their votes didn’t matter. They were couples in love who couldn’t marry, soldiers who fought for freedom abroad that they found denied to them at home. They had seen loved ones beaten, and children fire-hosed, and they had every reason to lash out in anger, or resign themselves to a bitter fate.
“And yet they chose a different path. In the face of hatred, they prayed for their tormentors. In the face of violence, they stood up and sat in, with the moral force of nonviolence. Willingly, they went to jail to protest unjust laws, their cells swelling with the sound of freedom songs. A lifetime of indignities had taught them that no man can take away the dignity and grace that God grants us. They had learned through hard experience what Frederick Douglass once taught — that freedom is not given, it must be won, through struggle and discipline, persistence and faith.”
Just like many Americans today, including some of whom lined the Washington Mall by the droves to honor and pay tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, President Obama said those individuals wanted to be part of that American Dream.
“We’ll suffer the occasional setback. But we will win these fights. This country has changed too much. People of goodwill, regardless of party, are too plentiful for those with ill will to change history’s currents,” said Obama.
“In some ways, though, the securing of civil rights, voting rights, the eradication of legalized discrimination — the very significance of these victories may have obscured a second goal of the March. For the men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract ideal. They were there seeking jobs as well as justice — not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity.”
Obama touched on the fact that black America’s fight for fair wages and decent living conditions is no different than other American.
“Dr. King explained that the goals of African Americans were identical to working people of all races: “Decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community, Obama said.
“What King was describing has been the dream of every American. It’s what’s lured for centuries new arrivals to our shores. And it’s along this second dimension — of economic opportunity, the chance through honest toil to advance one’s station in life — where the goals of 50 years ago have fallen most short.
“Yes, there have been examples of success within black America that would have been unimaginable a half century ago. But as has already been noted, black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white unemployment, Latino unemployment close behind. The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it’s grown. And as President Clinton indicated, the position of all working Americans, regardless of color, has eroded, making the dream Dr. King described even more elusive.”
Nothing is elusive when the people make their voices heard as they did during the era of the Civil Rights Movement. Sit-ins and protest followed passionate rallies and marches calling for change. It is because of all these marches that we have a much different America today, Obama said.
“Because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed. Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes. Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed, and Congress changed, and, yes, eventually, the White House changed.”