We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. 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 real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
from the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King
Fifty years ago today, the March on Washington converged on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I was oblivious in many ways to the tension and racial struggle of the nation at the time. I was living with my family in South Carolina, and attending school in a segregated school district. There were “white buses” and “colored buses.” It didn’t seem right, but that’s how it was. When I would talk to my parents about it, they would stress that it was absolutely positively WRONG. But that was the way the schools were run.
We moved back to Ohio in the early 1970s when my dad got a new job. Columbus was not a bastion of progressive thinking, but the schools had some kind of “balanced” attendance policy. My high school was integrated, at least in name. But at lunchtime, there was a clear segregation at the tables. You learned.
The year we moved north, the South Carolina schools were implementing forced integration. In response, some families pulled their children out of public schools and put them in “white flight” schools. Parts of the Carolinas are recovering from this ragged, raw, forced integration. And parts are still defensive.
In seminary, I had occasion to talk with my fellow students from the South about their experiences. We were poles apart. One African-American man shared that he had to work for ten years to save up enough money to go to college. Seminary took another ten years, and he eventually was awarded a scholarship. His insight and understanding of the human struggle for freedom and acceptance taught me more than any textbook. Another student, who already had a PhD in education, shared about her fears for her sons when they went to a big-city university. She said, “I still have to worry about them getting pulled over for just DWB!” (“Driving While Black”)
These memories and more came to mind as I listened to the speeches and the musical selections on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I didn’t make the trek downtown today, but I had kept the marchers, the leaders and all those listening in my prayers. It is an event that will be talked about for some time.
There were two moments that struck me as I watched this afternoon unfold –
First, there were two former presidents on the dais with President Obama. Presidents Carter and Clinton lended their statesmanship to the event. But both former Presidents Bush (G.W. and G.H.W.) did not attend because, according to reports, they were unable to travel. (We won’t talk about the fact that the younger Bush made it to Southern Methodist to watch a football practice… but not to Washington.) But sadly there were a lot of political figures who did not come to the Mall. Members of Congress and Senators were conspicuous by their absence. In a time of political gridlock, it is important to remember that Leadership does not consist of only doing what you want in the name of justice and equality, but considering and responding to the struggles and needs of others, particularly if these look and sound different than your own.
Second, I was struck by the reminder by President Obama that we are all “marchers” in this effort for Freedom. This is an excerpt from his speech: (the full text is here)
That tireless teacher who gets to class early and stays late and dips into her own pocket to buy supplies because she believes that every child is her charge — she’s marching. That successful businessman who doesn’t have to, but pays his workers a fair wage and then offers a shot to a man, maybe an ex-con, who’s down on his luck — he’s marching.
The mother who pours her love into her daughter so that she grows up with the confidence to walk through the same doors as anybody’s son — she’s marching. The father who realizes the most important job he’ll ever have is raising his boy right, even if he didn’t have a father, especially if he didn’t have a father at home — he’s marching. The battle-scarred veterans who devote themselves not only to helping their fellow warriors stand again and walk again and run again, but to keep serving their country when they come home — they are marching. Everyone who realizes what those glorious patriots knew on that day, that change does not come from Washington but to Washington, that change has always been built on our willingness, we, the people, to take on the mantle of citizenship — you are marching.
Marching means pressing on. Even when you hurt. Even when you are tired. Even when you are not convinced you are going in the right direction. Even when you not sure anyone is listening (a common fear of bloggers!) You keep marching, talking, sharing, blogging — because the job is not done.
I have a lot of hope today. Hope because I am choosing to see the best in the world around me. I believe that God takes willing hearts and changes the world, one event, one decision at a time. It’s not easy. But we keep going.
A fellow RevGal posted this quote today, and I thought it summarized beautifully the process to show the unending, unswerving March towards equality and justice.
Amen. So may it be. Thanks be to God.