<<I was among the "Foot Soldiers" who marched in the nation's capitol August 28, 1963 to demand Freedom and Justice for Black Americans. It was a day I shall never forget.
I had driven to New York City from Chicago with my good friend and Kappa Brother, William J. Brown II. We parked the car and took a flight to Washington D.C. where we joined my good friend Caroline "Dash" Davis for breakfast, and the three of us set off together marching. It was joyous and almost overwhelming - - over 200,000 other foot soldiers of all races and socio-economic strata marching to the Lincoln Memorial, responding to the call for justice conceived and issued by A. Phillip Randolph and organized by Bayard Rustin.
By chance a few years before, I had had the honor of sitting next to the great Mr. Randolph, the founder and leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and having an historic conversation on a flight from Chicago to New York.
Mr. Randolph had previously led movements which convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to end discrimination in defense industries and Presided Harry Truman to end discrimination in the armed services.
The March was on a very warm, but not too hot, August day.
We marchers were serious but celebratory. Some Black Greek organizations displayed their banners, as did other organized groups.
A. Phillip Randolph, chair of the March, opened the program with his booming voice that uttered every syllable of the names of speakers, artists and entertainers he introduced. We were thrilled to hear him introduce Martin Luther King JR.
More about Dr. King's historic address shortly. Before Dr. King spoke there were many other emotion evoking events and speeches. We were thrilled by the great soprano Marian Anderson and the magnificent gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.
Lena Horne (above at the March) and Harry Belafonte, both devoted to Dr. King in appearances and contributions, were acknowledged.
The second most impactful event to me, was the blazing, burning speech of John Lewis, then a leader of SNCC and for many years presently a Congressman from Atlanta. Lewis' speech was so powerful one wonders what more he might have said had he not been persuaded to tone down his rhetoric by more conservative planners concerned with not upsetting President Kennedy whose help would be needed to pass Civil Rights legislation.
Dr. King's address, frequently referred to as "I Have a Dream", has been celebrated for the last fifty years as one of the greatest orations in American history. It brought cheers, tears and shudders to most of us.
Dr. King began with a bold, direct truth, referring to the Emancipation Proclamation. He exclaimed: "This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. . . . but one hundred years later the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity".
Later in the address Dr. King proclaimed a withering truth:
"America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds', but we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt, so we come to cash this check".
Not only has the check never been cashed, it has never been issued.
Dr. King did not specify dollar amounts we Black Americans are due, but as Malcolm X, though not part of the March, said many times, the heirs of Africans brought to these shores in chains are due billions, trillions in reparations for building the wealth of America without any payment.
We are still waiting for economic justice. It is up to us Black people to make our demands and stay focused on the demand for payment.
I am blessed that I was able to be in Washington, D.C. for the Great March. If there was any downside to that wonderful day, it was that we left with no significant marching orders.
I had returned to the University of Wisconsin only two weeks after the Great March to complete writing my doctoral dissertation: "Martin Luther King, Jr.: Rhetorician of Revolt" when a stunning, heartbreaking event occurred. It was a brilliant Sunday, September 15th, when I left the library at UW and started driving home. I turned on the radio and learned that four children, little girls, three age 14, one 11, had been murdered in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. My tears flowed so hard I had to pull over to the curb and stop the car to avoid an accident. Both parents of three of these beautiful children were teachers in the Birmingham public schools. In the Black community reaction to the bombing, two Black male teenagers were shot to death.
To this day, I have never gotten over the Great March, the murders of the children and of three young volunteers from New York City, one Black two Jewish, and the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who all died for Black justice and liberation.
Our people gave so much blood and tears to attain the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we cannot allow the Tea Party, the NRA, other white racists and their fellow traveler Black traitors to take us back to the days of Jim Crow and servitude. We must stand fearlessly in solidarity as the darkness approaches and fight!
Most important we have to understand and teach others, particularly the young, of the threats of voter suppression, "Stand Your Ground", "Stop and Frisk", the world's greatest mass incarceration, the mis-education of Black students, charter schools, Common Core State Standards, the closing of many Black schools and the disappearance of Black teachers. We don't have much time to act.
Donald H. Smith, Ph.D.>>