As we approach the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I have a gnawing in my gut, an uneasy sense of society and its racial reality.
So begins Charles M. Blow, writing on the forthcoming anniversary of the August 28, 1963  March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, with the famous speech by Martin Luther King Jr. (and might I note the lesser known but must-read/watch speech by the 23 year old John Lewis).

You should read this column

I attended that event as a 17-year-old white of Jewish background who had just graduated from high school.

I had such high hopes then.  I have such concerns today, which is why Blow's column speaks to my condition.

There is so much good and thought-provoking writing in this column.  Thinking back on King's speech Blow wonders

whether the day he imagined will ever come and whether many Americans have quietly abandoned King’s dream as a vision that can’t — or shouldn’t — exist in reality.
He does not deny the progress that has been made.  Nor do I -  I have taught in integrated schools, where integrated couples and multi-racial children were not considered exceptional.  Our extended families include relationships that cross a variety of previous barriers:  black-white, Latino-Anglo, Native American - White.

I disagree somewhat with Blow, who thinks

Overt, articulated racial animus has become more socially unacceptable.
 My reaction is yes, but, because I see a rising open expression of racial animus since the election of 2008.

But there is so much I agree with.

For example, Blow worries that we have hit a ceiling, that

As we get closer to a society where explicit bias is virtually eradicated, we no longer have the stomach to deal with the more sinister issues of implicit biases and of structural and systematic racial inequality.
While I disagree with the "explicit bias" part of that frame, I believe he is absolutely on target on the rest of that statement, as is also is with this:  
And I worry that there is a distinct and ever-more-vocal weariness — and in some cases, outright hostility — about the continued focus on racial equality.
Perhaps one indicator of that is the opinion by Chief Justice Roberts in the voting rights case, where it is as if he is trying to justify no longer focusing on the ongoing discrimination that had as Justice Ginsburg rightly pointed out been held in check precisely by the provisions Roberts was now overturning (and for some more pointed commentary, this review by John Paul Stevens of a book on the Voting Rights Act is a must-read).

There is so much ongoing that is disturbing.

Earlier I mentioned teaching in diverse schools.

Yet while I coached soccer at a diverse school we used to play at a high school less than 15 miles from where I now teach, and our black players were subjected to racial taunts on the field.

And I did teach for a few minutes in an inner-city middle school in DC, where all of the students were black - and poor - and the only other white was the head counselor.

Blow provides data as well as observations.

His penultimate paragraph is one stark sentence:

I want to celebrate our progress, but I’m too disturbed by the setbacks.
As a teacher, I will acknowledge the setbacks.

But I am older than Blow, and even with the setbacks we are still - at least for right now - far ahead of where we were in 1963.

There are Blacks - and women and Hispanics and openly gay people - in Congress, in state legislatures.  We have had many mayors who were Black.  We have had chief executives of Fortune 500 Corporations. We have them on the Supreme Court, in Cabinet positions, as Governors.

And we have a man whose father was African in his second term as President, twice elected by a majority of the popular vote, a feat achieved in my lifetime by Eisenhower and Reagan, but not by anyone else.

I will let my students know what it was like - in the country both before and after that speech.

Later that year was the church bombing in Birmingham.

The following year a filibuster of the Civil Rights Act, led in part by Bobby Byrd, reached the necessary 67 votes for cloture in part because the dying Clair Engel, unable to speak because of a stroke, was brought in on a stretcher and pointed to his eye to cast a vote for cloture.

in 1964 Cheney, Schwerner and Goodman were killed and buried in a earthen dam in Mississippi.

In 1965 John Lewis almost died at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, marching on behalf of voting rights, 95 years after the 15th Amendment had in theory given the right to vote to Blacks.

Within a few years we had riots in cities, and as result we heard from the Koerner Commission that "Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal."  That was in 1967,  only four years after "I Have a Dream" was proclaimed from the front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Blow closes his column with another brief paragraph:  

I had hoped to write a hopeful, uplifting column to mark this anniversary. I wanted to be happily lost in The Dream. Instead, I must face this dawning reality.
I think his is a good column.

And yet, I do not think this reality is so newly dawning.

As a society and a nation we take two steps forward and one step back.

It is progress.

It is uneven.

Most Americans think we are better off.

It is far from perfect.

We still have our bigots.

I think there are still enough of us who lived through the changes that began more than 50 years ago who are willing to fight and work not to go backwards.

Read Blow's column.

And then I suggest you reflect -  what do YOU think about where we are now?

Tomorrow, Saturday, there will be speeches and a March.

Wednesday, the actually anniversary, there will be more remarks, including by our President who has often referred to King's use of "the fierce urgency of now."

That urgency is still upon us.

I suspect it may be when I do pass from the scene, surely before another 5 decades pass.

And yet I retain hope.

It is the same hope that has fueled my returning to the classroom.

It is what compels me to write and to speak - against injustice and bigotry, on behalf of equity, fairness and justice.

It is my determination to do all I can to help ensure the world I leave behind is not worse off than I received it, in my class more than 2/3 of a century ago.

Or if you prefer a different starting point, when I became involved in trying to make a difference.

And now it is ......

Fifty Years Later.


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