This week, thousands gather in Washington D.C. to commemorate the March on Washington 50th Anniversary (#MOW50). While many associate the march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, this event was a product of a broader justice movement executed by a large network of civil rights activists, including Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, Septima Clark and a litany of veterans of hope. Their combined efforts yielded significant legal, political, and cultural changes that represent a monumental democratic achievement.
This anniversary arrives at a crucial moment in U.S. national life. The fact that a black person is POTUS on this 50th anniversary seems miraculous to those who remember pre-civil rights America or lived in the shadows of persistent racial discrimination in subsequent decades. Still, racial conflicts surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquittal dominated U.S. headlines this summer. The SCOTUS decision to overturn key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 illustrated the tenuous nature of civil right’s most important achievements. These conflicts exposed profound racial disagreements and prompted vitriolic exchanges between opponents. MOW50, against this backdrop, serves as both a rousing celebration of victories already won and a sobering reminder that racial justice is still a work in progress.
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