1963: A time at which the African American civil rights movement reached its peak as Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to over 250,000 at the March on Washington on the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Around this time approximately 54 years ago, just that was occurring.
Among those marching and rallying were those fighting for jobs, freedom, voting rights and, of course, an end to racial segregation and discrimination. At the time, this peaceful rally was the largest gathering for a redress of grievances D.C. had ever seen, and to close out the peaceful day, King approached the podium, according to history.com.
As he spoke of his struggles, those he previously encountered and those soon to come in the future, he encouraged everyone to take action, but to organize protests and other events nonviolently. “Negro is still not free,” he said, and he continued.
Reaching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, King boomed, “I have 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.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today,” according to history.com.
This was not the first time King had used the “I have a dream theme,” but the way he expressed his voice and emphasized his words allowed him to create a clear and noble vision of the civil rights movement at the time. Before this, many people were unaware of the importance and demand for racial equality, but after King had spoken, many things were given the potential for change.
King ended his speech with, “When we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”
The year following the March on Washington, the 24th Amendment was ratified, abolishing the poll tax, which was hindering Southern African American voters. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was also passed, prohibiting racial discrimination in the workplace, in schools and in any and all public facilities.
For all of his efforts throughout the civil rights movement, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but shot to death years later at just 39 years old. Without him, civil rights would most definitely not be where they are today.
Opposite of the year 1963, the current social and political climate of the United States seems to have people engaging in violent, hateful and dangerous rallies and protests, such as what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. Figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Jonathan Daniels, a Keene local, are the kind of people the United States needs to demonstrate and encourage nonviolent protests, allowing the people to express what they want without offending or hurting anybody in the process.
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org