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August 23, 2010

A Day to Remember

By now, many of you have undoubtedly heard about the “Restoring Honor” Rally that will be conducted by Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the National Rifle Association on August 28 at the Lincoln Memorial. The date and location are significant. It was on August 28, 1963, that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the memorial during the March on Washington. Beck claims the planning of the event was “divine providence” and says, “Blacks don’t own Martin Luther King ... Far too many have either gotten just lazy or they have purposely distorted Martin Luther King’s ideas.” Those familiar with Beck’s daily rants, however, would be hard-pressed to find any common ground between his beliefs/tactics and King’s.

I remember that unforgettable Wednesday in 1963 and how I dressed that morning in my only suit. Participants had been asked to dress as if they were going to church. I made my way down to the Washington Monument. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was to begin at the monument at 11:00 AM and travel the short distance to the Lincoln Memorial. The monument grounds were filled with thousands of cheerful people from all parts of the country and all walks of life. The atmosphere was like a joyous church picnic. The crowd waited patiently for the March leaders to emerge from a meeting with Members of Congress.

I found a place under some large trees on the north side of the Reflecting Pool and was brought to tears when the program was opened by Marion Anderson singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” It was a poignant reminder of the time—she had been forced to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial because the Daughters of the American Revolution would not let an African American perform in their auditorium. The program featured speeches from the “Big Six”—leaders of the six major civil rights organizations—interspersed with performances by leading musicians and Hollywood actors.

The most memorable and inspiring speech came near the end when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. electrified the nation with his prophetic “I Have a Dream” speech, which became the hallmark of the entire event. King explained that the March had come to Washington “to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense, we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ … So we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

To honor King’s vision for America, social activists and civil rights leaders will hold their own event on August 28. The National Action Network, the National Urban League, the Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights are just a few of the sponsors of the “Reclaim the Dream” Rally and March. The rally will take place at Dunbar High School (1301 New Jersey Avenue NW—Mount Vernon Square/7th Street/Convention Center Metro Stop on Green/Yellow Line) in the District of Columbia from 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM on Saturday, August 28. At 1:00 PM, participants will march from Dunbar High School to the site of the King Memorial on the National Mall.

Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network insists that the “Reclaim the Dream” event “is not a countermarch to Beck.” National Urban League president Marc Morial also emphasized this point, saying, “It is very important to convey a positive message that America belongs to everyone. Our rally is not an ‘us against them.’ We want no confrontation with Glenn Beck.” This is very much in keeping with Dr. King’s nonviolent teachings. When his home in Montgomery was bombed, King told supporters, “I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know you love them.” We can only hope that Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent will reflect on these words on August 28.

At the same time, however, Morial made it clear that those attempting to reclaim King’s dream do “want a confrontation with the ideas [Beck] espouses. His ideas seem to be ideas of intolerance.” Such an exchange can only be healthy for our country. We should keep in mind that Glenn Beck is the same man who told listeners on his March 2 radio show, “I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church website. If you find it, run as fast as you can. ‘Social justice’ and ‘economic justice,’ they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!

On August 28, 1963, I was proud to be one of the 250,000 Americans that marched on Washington for the precise purpose of seeking social justice and economic justice. On that day, the nation was exposed to the vision of a brighter, more prosperous, more inclusive future for all Americans. We now have the opportunity to reclaim that dream for a new generation, in a time when it couldn’t be more relevant. If you still embrace the goals of social and economic justice, please come out and join me and thousands of others on August 28 as we rally and march to celebrate one of America’s greatest leaders and proponents of full democracy.

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