As much as things change, they seem to stay the same.
When President Barack Obama took the stage in the drizzling rain on August 28, 2013 to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King and the 1963 March on Washington, we all realized that while King’s dream had come full circle, the necessity and urgency to fight for justice, equality and jobs was still there…and very real.
Standing in the same place where Dr. King stood 50 years prior, Obama quoted the late reverend, cited the tremendous strides we’ve made for all people since then, but also offered a nugget of wisdom to the children and grandchildren of the freedom fighters before us:
Our work is not done.
Here are some of the moments that inspired us the most:
This story he told (after quoting our Founding Fathers) about the people who came to march on Washington in 1963:
And so they came by the thousands, from every corner of our country — men and women, young and old, blacks who longed for freedom and whites who could no longer accept freedom for themselves while witnessing the subjugation of others. Across the land, congregations sent them off with food and with prayer. In the middle of the night, entire blocks of Harlem came out to wish them well.
With the few dollars they scrimped from their labor, some bought tickets and boarded buses, even if they couldn’t always sit where they wanted to sit. Those with less money hitchhiked, or walked. They were seamstresses, and steelworkers, and students, and teachers, maids and pullman porters. They shared simple meals and bunked together on floors.
And then, on a hot summer day, they assembled here, in our nation’s capital, under the shadow of the great emancipator, to offer testimony of injustice, to petition their government for redress and to awaken America’s long-slumbering conscience.
When he deemed Dr. King’s words immortal and timeless:
His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time.
When he acknowledged that the fight wasn’t just for Dr. King and the civil rights leaders who joined him on the stage:
But we would do well to recall that day itself also belonged to those ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books, never got on TV.
Many had gone to segregated schools and sat at segregated lunch counters, had lived in towns where they couldn’t vote, in cities where their votes didn’t matter. There were couples in love who couldn’t marry, soldiers who fought for freedom abroad that they found denied to them at home. They had seen loved ones beaten and children fire- hosed. And they had every reason to lash out in anger or resign themselves to a bitter fate.
When he talked about the strength of those who came before us – even in the face of adversity:
In the face of hatred, they prayed for their tormentors. In the face of violence, they stood up and sat in with the moral force of nonviolence. Willingly, they went to jail to protest unjust laws, their cells swelling with the sound of freedom songs. A lifetime of indignities had taught them that no man can take away the dignity and grace that God grants us. They had learned through hard experience what Frederick Douglas once taught: that freedom is not given; it must be won through struggle and discipline, persistence and faith.
The spirit…the flame…the torch:
That was the spirit that they carried with them like a torch back to their cities and their neighborhoods, that steady flame of conscience and courage that would sustain them through the campaigns to come, through boycotts and voter registration drives and smaller marches, far from the spotlight, through the loss of four little girls in Birmingham, the carnage of Edmund Pettus Bridge and the agony of Dallas, California, Memphis. Through setbacks and heartbreaks and gnawing doubt, that flame of justice flickered and never died.
When Obama spoke of a new America, changed by those who marched on 50 years prior:
And because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, the civil rights law was passed. Because they marched, the voting rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes.
THAT moment when he acknowledged the importance of a black president giving this speech on the same steps Dr. King stood on.
Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed and Congress changed and, yes, eventually the White House changed.
The other moment when he carried Dr. King’s dream and acknowledged that the fight then and now isn’t just about justice for black people:
Because they marched, America became more free and more fair, not just for African-Americans but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, for Catholics, Jews and Muslims, for gays, for Americans with disabilities.
America changed for you and for me.
When he made a point to mention that the March on Washington sparked other justice movements:
And the entire world drew strength from that example, whether it be young people who watched from the other side of an Iron Curtain and would eventually tear down that wall, or the young people inside South Africa who would eventually end the scourge of apartheid.
That moment he made it known that we still have tons of work to do, even though we’ve made progress:
But we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete. The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own. To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency. Whether it’s by challenging those who erect new barriers to the vote or ensuring that the scales of justice work equally for all in the criminal justice system and not simply a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails it requires vigilance.
Because of this:
Yes, there have been examples of success within black America that would have been unimaginable a half-century ago. But as has already been noted, black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white employment (sic), Latino unemployment close behind. The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it’s grown.
That moment he reminded us why we were there, watching, listening, fighting:
The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history, that we are masters of our fate.
But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago.
When he gave examples of the spirit carried by freedom marchers in the 1960s to Americans today:
And I believe that spirit is there, that true force inside each of us. I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man. It’s there when the native born recognizing that striving spirit of a new immigrant, when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who were discriminated against and understands it as their own. That’s where courage comes from, when we turn not from each other or on each other but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from.
That drop-the-mic moment that had us all fired up and ready to go:
And that’s the lesson of our past, that’s the promise of tomorrow, that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it. And when millions of Americans of every race and every region, every faith and every station can join together in a spirit of brotherhood, then those mountains will be made low, and those rough places will be made plain, and those crooked places, they straighten out towards grace, and we will vindicate the faith of those who sacrificed so much and live up to the true meaning of our creed as one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Talk about history! To see the entire “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony, watch the video here (for Obama’s speech, forward to the 4:15:10 mark):
And for a full transcript, click here.
SOURCE: White House YouTube
To The Mountaintop! 14 Inspiring Moments From Obama’s March On Washington Speech (VIDEO x PHOTOS) was originally published on globalgrind.com
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