Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Most people have seen photos of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. emphatically delivering his speech. They know his now-famous “I have a dream” refrain.
What they may not know is that the march was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which makes revisiting this momentous occasion even more relevant today.
When we reflect on the limited access to jobs, due to a failing education system, and basic human rights, reflected by the growing prison state, Dr. King’s words could have easily been uttered in 2013. He explains how so many African-Americans live “on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast stream of material prosperity.” When thinking about the growing inequities for so many New Yorkers today, King’s words extend well beyond the African-American community to the lives of so many trying to “cash the check” of the American promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This country has made great strides since 1963. Within two years of the March, the Voting Rights, Civil Rights and Immigration Acts had been passed, ensuring increased access to the electoral process, basic civil rights, and increased access to the American dream for African-Americans and others. These were just some of the tangible national benefits that were born from that day in Washington.
But the events surrounding Trayvon Martin, the continued stop-and-frisk practices in major cities, the threats to basic voting access in Southern (and even some Northern) states, and the growing income and wealth gaps throughout the country reaffirm the necessity to keep the central tenant of this gathering in the forefront of our minds.
Dr. King said he “refused to believe the bank of justice [was] bankrupt.” So I continue to ask myself, and I ask you, what can we do to make sure that our own freedom is inextricably linked to others? We have come so far as a nation, and we have so many more miles to travel and heal together. Therefore, today we reflect on King’s words, “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
Christina M Greer, assistant professor of political science at Fordham University, and can be found on Twitter at @Dr_CMGreer.