In the History Corner… The March on Washington, again

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On Saturday, August 28, 2021, while listening to Rev. Al Sharpton, Bishop William Barber, Rev. Bernice King, and others, and observing the march itself, it was easy to travel back in mind to August 28, 1963, as Martin Luther King, John Lewis, and other civil rights and labor leaders staged a March on Washington and spoke in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

It was easy to let one’s mind do the walking because the march last weekend was the anniversary of that march. It was easy because in a little less than two years, on March 7, 1965, many of those same civil rights leaders were involved in Bloody Sunday, the March from Selma to Montgomery Alabama.

The march this past Saturday was easy to remember because it reminds one of the threatened March on Washington in 1941. Saturday’s march could even conjure up memories of the Million Man March and several other marches led by African American citizens over the years.

For many African Americans, marches are not just symbolic. In the case of many of them, some positive outcome can be or has been claimed. In 1941, as a result of the threatened March on Washington, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, prohibiting racial discrimination in the defense industry under contract with the federal government. In the case of the 1963 March on Washington, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In the case of the Selma to Montgomery March, President Lyndon Johnson introduced and Congress passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

History can note these actions on the part of the federal government and suggest that as a result of the march last Saturday, there may be significant legislation or executive action emerging from the federal government. This writer certainly hopes and prays for that outcome, but there is no true guidepost to say that it will be. Historical circumstances have changed in so many ways until it is difficult to predict such an outcome.

In a truly significant way, the spirit of much of the country is such that one can say that the South has risen again. For those old enough to know or widely read enough to have encountered it, there was a saying which arose after the South lost the Civil War. That saying was, “save your Confederate money boys, the South’s gonna rise again.” Well, there is plenty of evidence around to suggest that the same spirit of White Supremacy that drove the institution of slavery has gained and continues to gain momentum in every part of the country. It is that spirit that keeps the Senate filibuster alive and well, preventing passage of the For the People Bill and the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill.

The march this past weekend was on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, which helped usher in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but the present push is for the protection of the voting rights of Black people and their supporters. Consequently, because many white people have now come to fear that the demographics are such that they may lose power forever, they are not willing to support the protection of voting rights for Black people and their supporters.

Racism is apparently much deeper in the white American psyche, and thus the culture of the country, than many are willing to admit. Some Democratic leaders may be supportive of strong, effective voting rights legislation because it helps keep them in power. Some white liberal/progressive citizens may be supportive of strong, effective voting rights legislation because they truly have become educated rather than miseducated. Nevertheless, much more of a push is needed if the effort is to be successful.

The questions which we now raise are, “If America is not such a racist country, why do Black people have to keep on marching in order to get to enjoy the rights which white people have always enjoyed? When will America become America so far as Black people are concerned? When will there no longer be a need for special legislation to protect Black citizens? When will there be no need to march on Washington again?

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In the History Corner… The March on Washington, again

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
September 15, 2021