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The March on Washington at 50

It’s been half a century since the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and shouted out her incomparable version of “How I Got Over,” electrifying the hundreds of thousands of marchers gathered around the reflecting pool in a mass call for jobs and freedom. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the greatest American speech of the 20th century at the event, in which he invoked the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Emancipation Proclamation, explaining how he had a dream “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

That year, 1963, King was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year. In 1964, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Four years later he was assassinated on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had travelled to show solidarity with striking black sanitary public works employees.

There will be a celebration of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom next Wednesday, August 28 at 5pm in Martin Luther King Park. The program will include an inspirational reading of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, as well as speakers from Citizen Action/Alliance for Quality Education, the AFL-CIO, CBTU, IAC, Fight the Power UB, Buffalo Save the Kids, and the Western New York Peace Center.

“Since 1963 there have been many so-called victories for civil rights, but when you see the culture of injustice we live in today, what really has changed?” says John Washington, one of the event’s organizers. “It seems that we have ignored Dr. King’s warnings and fallen victim to the intoxicating opiate of gradualism. We deferred the full payment of the dream in the hopes that more black people in positions of power would result in progress. Relative to the goal, the progression of this generation is minimal and focused on a small group of people. It is becoming more and more evident that black faces in high places does not mean an end to racism. It is time for all of us to take an honest look at how far we really have come since 1963.”

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