The 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington bore little resemblance to the 1963 March on Washington in both style and substance. Not surprisingly, no one filled the shoes of Dr. Martin Luther King in addressing the tens of thousands present on August 24. There was mostly no urgency in the tone of the speakers in addressing the issues of jobs, freedom and justice. In comparing the differences and similarities of the 1963 March on Washington with the 50th Anniversary of the march, there were notable diverse differences and also stark similarities. Women were mostly absent from the 1963 march. Gays were silenced and diversity was absent in all other ways. In 2013, the program was one of the most diverse, discussing the stark reality of continued loss of freedoms for many Americans, mostly minorities.
In 2013, women were front and center on the program. Fifty years ago, although the mother of the civil rights movement, Dr. Dorothy I. Height, sat on the podium alongside of the men of the major civil rights organizations, she was not able to utter a word. Myrlie Evers, widow of Medgar Evers was on the 1963 official program to give a tribute to women fighters for freedom but she was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. No woman spoke on the official program although Josephine Baker spoke at a preliminary part of the program. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and opera singer Marian Anderson sang on the program because singing was an acceptable role for women in 1963 versus speaking.
In 2013, there was no shortage of women speakers from all areas, including civil rights organizations, social justice organizations, labor unions and government representatives. From Myrlie Evers- Williams, who made it this time, to Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Patricia Rosier, President of the National Bar Association, NAACP’s Chairperson Roslyn Brock and their National Legal Defense Fund’s Sherrilyn Ifill, Barbara Anwire, Executive Directive of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Melanie Campbell, President of National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, Maria Teresa Kumar, President of Voto Latino, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, women were present this time, to name just a few notable ones.
Most notable of all of the speakers was the diversity in 2013 which was missing in 1963. Fifty years later, the March on Washington had women, men, children, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, gays and lesbians from every walk of life. And there is a strength in the numbers of diversity present at the 50th anniversary march. Until those present from yesterday’s march, recognize and focus on their collective strength and act on it, the conservative minority will be able to continue to erode away the rights and freedoms of many Americans, particularly minorities.
The stark difference in the two marches was the lack of a sense of urgency or a call to action in 2013. The 50th anniversary should be more than a commemoration or love fest of rousing speeches, prayers and songs. It needed a sense of urgency for everyday persons to get involved to address voting rights, gun rights, criminal justice disparities for blacks and Hispanics, Stop and Frisk, Stand Your Ground, workers’ rights and education reforms. There is another event, Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action scheduled for August 28, 2013, marking the actual anniversary date of the 1963 March on Washington. Presidents Obama, Clinton and Carter will give remarks. And hopefully that event will address the specific calls to action for people to take. That was mostly missing in yesterday’s march. People need to know how they can make a difference.
Unfortunately, the stark similarity and reality in the two marches is the continued fight to protect basic American freedoms and our voting rights. Despite having an African American president and U.S. Attorney General, our work is far from done. I attended the march with an 8 year old child who will be of the generation to carry the torch. In another 50 years, there will probably still be battles to win to continue to create a perfect union. Let’s hope she is not continuing to fight to protect the same voting rights issues and lack of freedoms for all Americans.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks blog who addresses issues on race and gender in law and politics. She also speaks on hot legal and political topics and local and national headline legal trials. She regularly contributes articles to the Huffington Post and Women’s Media Center blog. She has appeared in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, ABC, CBC, Fox and NBC affiliates, Arise America, RT America, CBC- Canadian TV and XM Sirius radio.