Baltimore, MD – The NAACP issued the following statement in observance of the 53rd Anniversary of the March on Washington.
Today we celebrate the 53rd anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On August 28, 1963, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin reprised their plans to unite civil rights and labor organizations in a collective call for justice. Unlike their first attempt in 1941, no conciliatory Executive Order dissuaded this march, and hundreds of thousands flocked to our capital city to converge at the Lincoln Memorial.
As its terminus symbolized, the March was held in honor of the hundredth anniversary of President’s Lincoln’s own presidential decree: the Emancipation Proclamation. The march simultaneously celebrated a century since liberation and grieved how, as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it in his famous speech from that day, African Americans remained by “the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” Freedom and jobs remained elusive; freedom and jobs called for a march.
On that day of momentous solidarity, Dr. King’s dream of an America where “all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics” would unite in a common fight for freedom seemed gloriously achievable.
The years to follow contained both triumph and tragedy. Despite the movement’s unflinching dedication to nonviolent resistance, opponents did not hesitate to attack activists with fatal force. In the spring of 1965, the young, white Reverend Jonathan Daniels made his way down to Selma, Alabama to join the upcoming march for voting rights. Rev. Daniels survived the State Troopers’ tear gas and billy clubs – weapons of an assault so vicious it would become known as Bloody Sunday. However, that August – just fourteen days after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act that the Selma marchers had inspired and just eight before the second anniversary of the March on Washington – Rev. Daniels was shot dead while trying to protect the life of seventeen-year-old Ruby Sales.
This 2016 anniversary retains that bittersweet flavor. We pay our thanks to those who gave their time, hearts, and sometimes lives to the mission of the NAACP these past fifty-three years. We also call attention to the weighty work we have left to do and to the tragic continuities in our oppressions: employment discrimination, economic inequality, police brutality, voter suppression, and segregated schooling. With white supremacists surrounding our Houston offices with M16s, a presidential candidate who fuels his popularity with flagrant bigotry, and discriminatory laws that keep people of color and youth away from the polls, we seem farther from Dr. King’s dream of unity than ever.
From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King implored the nation to recognize the urgency of action, “This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.” This August 28, after a sweltering summer of our own – one filled with unceasing violence and incivility – we must guarantee an invigorating autumn. With a presidential election impending, the stakes are particularly high. In the seventy-one days until November 8, we must commit ourselves with boundless energy to restoring the voting rights of youth and people of color. If all Americans cannot exercise their rightful stake in our democracy, we will never be a land of liberty. Attendance at the polls is not a singular measure of America’s status; old oppressions will persist no matter the results of Election Day. However, a communal commitment to getting out the vote is exactly the sort of invigoration we need to propel us into a 2017 where we’ll keep on marching, keep on voting, keep on lobbying until, as Dr. King put it, we can finally, fully claim “the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”