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"The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." We can't say that, 50 years later, the March on Washington's goals have been fulfilled. But we can mark some simply astonishing, even awe-inspiring, changes. First, of course: 50 years ago, the right to vote was one of the components of freedom that was denied to so many. While voting is still contested, it's not a small thing that this afternoon, a black president will speak at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the anniversary of the march. Or that in 1963, John Lewis was the youngest speaker at the march, and today, he is a member of Congress. From Georgia. The simple existence of this paragraph as anything other than fiction is astonishing, from a 1963 standpoint:
“I am very encouraged about what the president will say,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the last living speaker from the march. “I’ve had a conversation with him. He called me a few days ago and he’s going to say all of the right things, but I believe, I truly believe, that his presence as the first African-American president will be a speech unto itself.”
In 1963, too, the march was controversial and scary to many; for a window into how it was viewed at the time, you can actually listen to the original coverage from Boston's WGBH. But one window into that is that Retired Major Gen. John Hawkins, who was 13, remembers:
"I had two of my buddies with me, and we rode our bicycles across the Dulles Bridge from southeast D.C. to here basically because my mother said 'Don't,'" Hawkins said. "My mother said, basically, there's gonna be a riot. 'Don't go over there!' And of course this two-star general said to her, 'Yes, mom,' and immediately got on my bike and rode over here."
America is no racial paradise, and too many white people don't understand that:
But 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. so famously said "I have a dream ... that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers," 74 percent of people in the South say they approve of interracial marriage. In 1958, the number nationally was just 4 percent. So while it's important to remember that the march's goals are unfinished, we surely have come a long way.
Originally posted to Laura Clawson on Wed Aug 28, 2013 at 07:37 AM PDT.