Wednesday, August 28, 2013

2 5 OTHER Things Dr. King said at the March on Washington

By: Marvin DeBose

50 years ago, on August 28, 1963, a quarter-million people gathered in Washington D.C. for the historic March on Washington. As I expected, a great deal of the focus and discussion surrounding this event is centered on Martin Luther King Jr. and his "I Have a Dream Speech". 

As historic and significant as that speech was, a rather disturbing fact is that we are only taught to remember a small part of that profound speech, particularly, the last few minutes of it.

What's problematic about this is that leaving out the earlier parts of the speech neglects a large part of King's message and leaves him in what scholar, Michael Eric Dyson, called "a timeless mood of optimism", ignoring his calls to actions as well as the historical context which led to his dream.

Here are the 5 OTHER things that Dr. King said on that historic day:

1. "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism... Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children... It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment... 1963 is not an end but a beginning."

Here, King is quick to remind us that the March on Washington was not a time to become content in the fight for justice. He clearly states that this march is far from a culmination of a movement, but the start of one. Basically he tell us that "The struggle ain't over, it's just beginning, keep working!" Maybe this part of King's speech needs to be played on TV more often.

2. "...the Negro still is not free... the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition."

Here, King discusses the plight of Blacks in America stating that nearly one hundred years after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, "Freedom" is something for which African Americans still have to fight. He mentions issues like segregation, poverty and discrimination, which are all issues which still exist to this day.

3. "In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote... that all men -- would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness... America [gave] the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked 'insufficient funds'... But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt."

King is pretty much using the metaphor of a "bad check" as a way of saying that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are merely symbols of the hypocrisy of America. Especially when many marginalized groups of people still had to fight for "life" and "liberty" in this country centuries after those documents were written. Yet, his refusal to see the "bank of justice" as bankrupt shows his hope and faith in America's potential to change.

4. "There are those who are asking...'When will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.... We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity..."

Once again King reminds us that as long as injustice exists, the struggle still continues. Notice he's not just talking about integrating buses and restaurants. King goes much deeper and talks about dignity and recognizing people's humanity

5. "Unearned suffering is redemptive"

This was King's way of reassuring all of the people who had faced violence, jail time, and ostracism as a result of their fight for justice. He's basically telling them to not let the hardship of the struggle get them down, since that is the only way that they can achieve progress. It echoes what King's predecessor Frederick Douglass once said, "Without struggle there is no progress."

Call to Action
I recommend that people actually read and study the words of leaders like Dr. King, and also listen to the speeches of others involved in the March. Study the history which led to the March, read about what happened in it's aftermath. Learn why Dr. King would 4 years later say that his dream "turned into a nightmare".

As Dr. King's speech showed, August 28, 1963 wasn't just about one man's dream, it was about challenging a harsh reality. It wasn't just about holding hands and singing "We Shall Overcome", it was also about taking steps to actually overcome injustice.

It wasn't a day of celebration in order for people to end up marching for some of the same issues 50 years later, it was an urgent call to action. The question is, in the legacy of the "Dream" of King and many others, what action will you take?


  1. Hey Marv you did a great job on this piece! Profound!

    "A reading man and woman is a ready man and woman, but a writing man and woman is exact"
    Marcus Garvey


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