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Ordinary people share tales of dreams deferred

Agenda remains the same: jobs, voting rights and “justice for all”

D. Kevin McNeir | 8/29/2013, 9 a.m.
From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, thousands can be seen gathered at the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous 'I Have A Dream' speech on the National Mall, on Saturday, August, 24, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Blacks, whites and Hispanics exchanged hugs, handshakes and high-fives along Pennsylvania Avenue in our nation’s Capitol last Saturday morning as tens of thousands of Americans retraced the steps of their ancestors, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington. And while many of the participants agreed that we have achieved significant racial progress since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, those who marched also noted that many of the objectives set during the first march remain unfulfilled.

As the award-winning historian David Garrow, who chronicled the history of the King years and civil rights movement in his award-winning novel “Bearing the Cross” says, “We still have two largely separate Americas.”

Statistics show that sizable gaps remain between Blacks and whites, particularly in areas of wealth, income, poverty, economic opportunity and educational achievement. For example, white families on average have accumulated wealth worth about six times that of Blacks while white incomes top Black incomes by an average of two-to-one. Add to that the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that stripped power from the most important section of the Voting Rights Act [Section 5], opening the door for states to enact voter ID laws and other discriminatory regulations, and it is clear that this nation still does not treat all of its citizens as equals.

Leaders from the past

“We still have work to do but that’s nothing new — Blacks have always had to work harder for what we want,” said civil rights veteran Julian Bond, 73, who was one of King’s lieutenants before moving on to Congress and later as the national chairman of the NAACP. “The movement was fueled by ordinary men and women who served as foot soldiers and walked for dignity. They chose to walk in dignity rather than ride in chains. We must do the same.”

The Rev. C.T. Vivian, 89, another of King’s assistants who participated in the Freedom Rides, organized sit-ins and later played a major role in both the SCLC and SNCC, says Blacks must continue to march in order to “bring pressure on those in power through moral and spiritual means.”

“We are seeing a new wave of protesters, many of whom are young adults, that are using both the methods we established over 50 years ago and combining them with new ideas,” he said. “Young people are using social media as their platform to push our collective political agenda. But we still have to keep pushing, keep moving, keep protesting. The dream has not been achieved.”

Dr. Charles Steele, Jr., 77, former national president/CEO, SCLC, and one of the first Blacks elected to the Alabama State Senate, said “if we are to follow Dr. King, we must take up the banner for the poor.”

“Too many of us [Blacks] have become complacent because we have achieved some level of success,” he said. “We must continue to be the moral compass of this country as King taught us. We have not overcome — not by a long shot.”