Obama Sounds Alarm to “Dream” Seekers
8/30/2013, 9:20 a.m.
On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before a teeming crowd surrounding Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial and prodded the U.S. government to get started paying off on a promissory note that had come back to its black, marginalized and underemployed recipients “marked insufficient funds”.
Exactly fifty years later, the first Black President of the United States stood at the same spot before a marched-in audience at least equally as large as the 250,000 who attended the original March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and goaded them to complete “unfinished business”.
President Barack Obama capped off a full week of tributes to the “I Have A Dream speech” and its jarring resonance worldwide for the past five decades by delivering a keynote speech that should remind Dr. King’s devotees that there’s much more work to be done.
People didn’t risk all manner of inconvenience, discouragement, indignity and danger to attend the ’63 March on Washington to see progress stall, Obama insisted.
“And because they kept marching, America changed,” Obama roared. “Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed. Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes.”
Even with Dr. King’s offspring – daughter Bernice, and sons Dexter and Martin III – sitting directly to his left, the President insinuated that strains of complacency and disengagement among the populous have kept the generations that benefitted greatly from civil rights protestors’ sacrifices from continuing the anonymous foot soldiers’ struggle.
While minorities (Blacks in particular) have gained significantly greater access to political and law enforcement positions, fair housing, and employment opportunities since 1963, large peace and prosperity gaps between Blacks and Whites persist, and appear to be growing. Blacks are jailed on a more frequent and punitive basis. Black households suffer most from the absence of fathers. Recent voting rights legislation in a growing number of states threatens the enfranchisement of Blacks disproportionately. And national unemployment rates for Blacks are nearly double those that Whites confront.
“We might not face the same dangers of 1963,” Obama said, “but the fierce urgency of now remains.”
Beyond lavishing praise on Dr. King, Obama ran off an extensive list of those who lost their lives in the ‘60s to empower Black people, insisting “they did not die in vain”.
“But,” he added, “we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete … To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency.”
In his most emphatic passage of all, Obama underscored the international impact of the ’63 March by stating, “change does not come from Washington, but to Washington…change has always been built on our willingness, We The People, to take on the mantle of citizenship”.
In exclusive interviews with The Atlanta Voice just days prior to the 50th Anniversary commemoration of the ’63 March, both Congressman John Lewis and former Ambassador Andrew Young reflected on how issues that outrage Blacks today pale in comparison to the conditions and atrocities that were rampant in the early 1960s. Each recalled how Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violent protest was put to its most stringent tests by pressures from inside and outside of the civil rights movement.