Let freedom ring took a literal meaning Wednesday at 3 p.m., as bells toll across the country, from churches in Stone Mountain, GA and at the Lincoln Memorial. It is a direct reference to the late Dr. Martin Luther King’s powerful speech, “I have a Dream”.
It was all as part of the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington where King inspired and captive an estimated crowd of 2-3 hundred thousand people as he delivered that very speech.
Student hearing these bells ring around the community, and holding discussion in their history classes about the March on Washington may ask, why is this event such a big deal?
As a matter of fact, some students have talked about the August 28, 1963 march as an event of past history, and those “issues” are not in the forefront of their minds today.
With so many other distractions, other trending topics, and a far greater sense of freedom experience by today’s youth, the Civil Rights battles of the 60’s are simply not part of a young person’s daily life.
The issues that drew people from all walks of life to the National Mall are not necessarily top priority to today’s youth because they are not exposed to the daily, real injustices that were experienced 50 years ago.
Fifty years ago, American of all races and religions gathered to call for equality. Many, like Dr. King were fresh from bombing, jails, beatings and other injustices that were part of the Civil Rights Movement.
Today’s average child or teen has a hard time wrapping their minds around such experiences. It’s what they have read in history books and not what they know physically.
Today’s progress feels good, as young people may be unaware of what felt bad.
Today’s students are born into an America where the Constitutional Rights of every individual, regardless of race, is expected to be upheld. The right to attend any school, go to any restaurant, sit anywhere on a bus, vote, and even become the President of the United States are not farfetched ideas.
The overall hope is that everyone recognizes today’s March on Washington is not only teaching a valuable history lesson, but is a calling for the nation to look deep within itself and identify the incomplete work that remains.
Young and old should take this time to be reflective of the real progress made in the areas of segregation and discrimination, but not to be lulled into complacency and a sense that the check, Dr. King referenced in his speech, has been fully “cashed”. Unfortunately, in many ways, it is still marked “insufficient funds”.
It is noted that the March on Washington is largely credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). Both of these laws are amazing accomplishment for this country, but today some of those same concerns that drew so many people to Washington in 1963 still remain unresolved.
Issues like the educational gaps, the wealth gap, high unemployment, voter suppression efforts, and other injustices craftily cloaked in political rhetoric and deceptive motives, means the work is still incomplete.
So what are the relevant lessons of the March on Washington for today’s youth? Students should be inspired by the value of this historic Civil Rights rally, while paying close attention to present day social concerns that are so easily hidden in broad daylight.
Among the speakers of the Wednesday event included former presidents: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and President Barack Obama.
Standing at the Lincoln Memorial, the President’s message reflected on Dr. King’s profound words. He pointing out that the speech was more than just “some abstract ideal”, but one that showed “African American’s goals as identical to working people of all races: Decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community.”
The attainable goals of 1963 are the goals that today’s youth should continue to reach for as they never forget the past, remain vigilant in the present, and hopeful for the future.
And as Oprah Winfrey asked the crowd gathered in this historic place today, “As the bells toll, ask yourself how can the dream live on in me”.