Commemorating 52nd Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his I Have a Dream speech to huge crowd gathered for the Mall in Washington DC during the M
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his I Have a Dream speech to huge crowd gathered for the Mall in Washington DC during the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom (aka the Freedom March). (Photo by Francis Miller//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

During the past two weeks two great persons in the struggle against injustice, both of whom I knew, passed away. First was Julian Bond at the age of 75, the other was Louis Stokes, a 15-term former congressman from OH. He died at the age of 90.

The death of these two social justice and political warriors were on my mind as I realized that next week our will be the 52nd anniversary of the August 28th, 1963 March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom. (Most persons associate their memory of The March with the soaring oratory of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech.)

The Black Lives Matter Movement, in response to the repetitive shootings of black men by police, and the failure in most instances, of any prosecutorial accountability, ISIS, illegal immigration, income inequality, mass incarceration, States' legislative efforts to limit voting rights, continued deaths from Black gangs' gun violence, and the media's fixation on the Dem and Repub. primaries, can temporarily overwhelm ANY thoughtful reflection about that great assemblage of Black and white persons at the Lincoln Memorial, Wednesday afternoon,52 years ago.

In thinking about Julian Bond and Louis Stokes I reflected on how much has happened in our nation during their lives, including, but not limited to The March On Washington. This, in turn, caused me to remember many other things.

I was 32 years old in 1963.

I remember some of the giant ideological "tuning forks," whose commitments, along with Dr. King's leadership, inspired so many others like me. One such "tuning fork," Harry Belafonte, thank God, is still with us today. Others, who also meant so much to me and to Dr. King, were Stanley David Levison and A. Phillip Randolph.

Stanley was a white real estate lawyer who met Dr. King in 1956. Until his death in 1979, aside from his family and business, he devoted every hour of his life to assisting and supporting Dr. King, as a political advisor, draft speechwriter, and fundraiser for Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It was Stanley, aside from Dr. King personally, who encouraged me to work more closely with him and his work on behalf of Dr. King

A. Phillip Randolph was the legendary African-American labor and political leader, founder and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union and Chairman of the 1963 March On Washington. He was the overarching strategic political leader of The Civil Rights Movement in 1963.

For example, I remember, the morning of the March, speaking with Harry Belafonte. He had asked me to meet the "Celebrity Delegation" to the March who were arriving that morning by private chartered plane from CA. Harry "charged" me with the responsibility of meeting Charlton Heston, "head" of the "Delegation" and leading him and other to their designated seats on the March platform. Space consideration limits my written recital, of all of the names of those prominent motion picture, TV, and performing artist stars that comprised the "Celebrity" delegation.

Much of my memories of that day are more fully described in BEHIND THE DREAM-The Making of The Speech That Transformed A Nation, co-authored with Stuart Connelly.

What I remember most today, however, is the CONTRAST, then, between the prominent role played by leaders of religious organizations and labor unions at the March On Washington. Except for Rev. William Barbar's "Moral Monday" leadership in NC, there appears to be a less prominent or non-existent civil rights leadership role-played by Churches and religious leaders today. Why is this?

I was blessed to have my nostalgic reflections transformed into hope and optimism earlier this week when I watched and listened to a Religious minister and colleague of mine deliver her prayer at the annual convocation of Faculty and staff at the University of San Francisco .In her prayer Ms. Julia Dowd said:

"Over these summer months our country has reeled from racial violence that never seems to end, horrifically culminating in the massacre at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, SC. Despite so many advances in eradicating poverty and inequity, terrible violence persists that tears apart our communities, our country and our world, and most certainly touches us here at the University of San Francisco.

All of this makes our collective work at USF all the more important and urgent.

The poet and author Alice Walker has a poem called "To Change the World Enough," which given our tagline as a University, I thought appropriate for our prayer this morning. I invite you to listen to her words and reflect on our collective work, and what it means for us to change the world from here.

In Alice Walker's words:

'To change the world enough
you must cease to be afraid
of the poor.
We experience your fear as the least pardonable of
humiliations; in the past
it has sent us scurrying off
daunted and ashamed
into the shadows.
the world ending
the only one all of us have known
we seek the same
fresh light'
'you do:
the same high place
and ample table.
The poor always believe
there is room enough
for all of us;
the very rich never seem to have heard
of this.
In us there is wisdom of how to share
loaves and fishes
however few;
we do this everyday.
Learn from us,
we ask you.
We enter now
the dreaded location
of Earth's reckoning;
no longer far
or hidden in books
that claim to disclose
it is here.
We must walk together without fear.
There is no path without us'

As I began "to process" this prayer with my memories of the March On Washington.
I immediately thought of the speech the Rabbi Joachim Prinz, then President of the American Jewish Congress, said during his speech at the March. He spoke immediately before Dr. King was introduced. Among some of the words he spoke that day was a reference to his Jewish heritage:

"Our ancient history began with slavery and the yearning for freedom. During the Middle Ages my people lived for a thousand years in the ghettos of Europe. Our modern history begins with a proclamation of emancipation".

"It is for these reasons that it is not merely sympathy and compassion for the black people of America that motivates us. It is above all and beyond all such sympathies and emotions a sense of complete identification and solidarity born of our own painful historic experience".

When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not '.the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence. (Emphasis added)

A great people which had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder.

America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent. Not merely black America, but all of America (Emphasis added). It must speak up and act. from the President down to the humblest of us, and not for the sake of the Negro, not for the sake of the black community but for the sake of the image, the idea and the aspiration of America itself."

In honor of Julian Bond, Congressman Louis Stokes, and so many, many, known and unknown heroes and heroines of the Civil Rights Movement, and in tribute to the younger successor generation of The Black Lives Matter Movement, we must find a way to stop, once and for all, this systemic assault by local police on Black and other people of color.

It is not an overstatement to remind the current generation in our country that Dr. King, and so many, many others, "marched" so that that it would not be necessary 52 years later for our children and grandchildren to march to tell our nation TODAY, that "Black Lives Matter."

Historically, was the coalition of African-Americans and principally Jewish community leaders who jointly acquired and exercised the political power to end racial segregation and empowered our Congress to enact the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The most important things that should be done to day, in tribute commemoration of the 52nd Anniversary of The March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom are:

1.Listen and respond to the pain and anguish of our children who remind us TODAY, 24/ 7 that BACK LIVES MATTER;

2.Recommit ourselves to end the scourge of Black gangs' gun violence that skills more Black men in 30 days than occur in one year from challenged police shootings.

3.In spite of the current strains in the traditional coalition of Blacks and Jews resulting from the aggressive campaign of Israel to turn members of Congress against President Obama's negotiated anti-nuclear deal with Iran, it is in the interest of BOTH communities to repair and re-invigorate the historical civil rights alliance, and fight against the resurgence of anti-Semitism on some of the major college campuses across our country.

4.Register and vote
If not now, when? If not us, who?