The Herald Bulletin

August 27, 2013

Primus Mootry: The 1963 March on Washington — speaking truth to power


The Herald Bulletin

---- — "True peace is not the absence of violence; it is the presence of justice."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1957

No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace! The shouts of 30,000 people echoed down the halls of history down to this day, Aug. 28, 2013, the 50th anniversary of a march that changed the trajectory of American history. It is fondly known by many as "The Great March."

Last Saturday, these thousands gathered at the Washington Monument to celebrate the march and to let the world know that the march toward justice and peace is yet unfinished. The proof is, 50 years ago, 300,000 marchers were shouting the very same thing: no justice, no peace.

Back in 1963, the marchers were an estimated 80 percent African American and 20 percent white American. Last Saturday's march was, well, I don't know for sure. Certainly, the African-American community was well represented. But, unlike 1963, others were there.

In the crowd and as speakers, there were white men, Hispanics, Asian Americans, women speaking for their rights, and members of the LBGT community. They were flesh and blood evidence of the profound cultural and ethnic shifts that have taken place in this country since the 1960s.

They, too, joined in the shout: "No justice, no peace." They saw the struggle as part of the civil and human rights struggle of African Americans. This struggle is and always has been, as Dr. King said, "to make real the promise of democracy."

By extension, the struggle is about core, uniquely American values, — freedom, justice, equality, equal protection under the law, and other constitutionally guaranteed rights. Also, I ask myself, as a moral issue, how can we, a nation of predominantly European immigrants, so shabbily treat immigrants from across our borders?

That is why 30,000 people showed up last Saturday. They showed up to speak truth to power, and the greatest power in a democratic society is "we, the people." They were there to speak to us, to reach out to every open-minded person to let them know that the struggle for peace and justice requires us peaceably to act. Someone once said, "all that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in this world is for enough good men (and women!) to do nothing."

Now, I know there are rich, powerful people who, for selfish reasons, treat change like it's an ugly rash. I am certain these elites get quite itchy when they see new coalitions forming outside the reach of money and power. They can't be bought and, if they could, there isn't enough money to buy them. I call them patriots.

I claim, however, that the opponents of change, whatever their reasons, are fighting a losing battle. For one thing, The Great March put America on a new trajectory toward freedom and equality. For another, in support of this claim, unlike the 1960s, today there are information technologies that instantaneously connect people at local, national and international levels. It is getting harder and harder to hide the truth and sell a lie instead.

Anyway, today President Barack Obama will address another crowd and the American people from the place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood when he delivered his immortal "I Have A Dream" speech. No one knows exactly what the president will say. My guess is that it mostly will be "feel good" stuff about standing on the shoulders of giants and that sort of thing. But that's all right. I know the man is a great speaker, I just hope he is a great listener.

I also know that Dr. King would be very proud to see that America has elected her first African-American president. That is something he would not have been able even to dream in 1963. But that is really less important than the fact that, as represented in the crowd expected to gather at the Lincoln Memorial today, although Dr. King is dead, the dream is still alive.

I can almost see Dr. King now, not at the podium, but in the crowd, unrecognizable, maybe even wearing a hoodie. And his marvelous voice would be among the chorus of voices raised to speak truth to power, to citizens everywhere, and to the world: "No justice. No peace!" Thank you, Dr. King, for giving us a loving shove, and for moving America closer to her promise.

Have a nice day.

Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.