Fifty years ago to-day Martin Luther King delivered his famous speech at the March on Washington.
I remember my mother, born in Canada but raised in Newark, New Jersey, was very anxious about the developments of the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of the Black Power Movement. I was living at home that summer, and we followed the unfolding events as closely as possible. She had been born in 1921, and her proud and highly skilled father had taken his family south to find work… any work… during the Depression. They were just as poor and just as desperate as the black families in the urban neighbourhood. She remembered her childhood playmates with great affection and was outraged at the way blacks were treated in the south, but she was also worried. How could any nation survive such upheavals, what if there was violence, what if law and order broke down, what if compromise and change proved impossible? Those fears were not unfounded… the Watts riots occurred exactly two years later.
Has there ever been a time when there was not something enormous and uncontrollable about which thoughtful and intelligent people like my mother would not be anxious? Coverage of the anniversary of the march has pushed, at least for now, news of the crisis in Syria to the background. It is reassuring, perhaps, to think of the march and King’s great speech as a turning point that did not turn out disastrously. But that is no reason to be smug or complacent… the work on racism is far from complete.
Needless to say, media attention has been intense. There is nothing to say that has not already been said, brilliantly, by people much more knowledgable about the topic than I am.
I found this BBC program about the speech especially interesting, because other black leaders are reading the speech. There is no way to embed it, so please click on the link to open it!
I am so accustomed to hearing King’s oration, that the impact has been muted by familiarity. Hearing the same words uttered in other voices forces me to listen acutely again to the text, to every word of the message, to the substance, not the style.
Please tell me whether you are hearing more clearly phrases and meanings that were not so obvious before.