By William Reed
Fifty years to the day that Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, President Barack Obama was scheduled to the same steps to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The march is one of Black American’s greatest achievements. Tourism officials in the nation’s capital are hoping that a quarter-million people will assemble in Washington, August 21-28, 2013, for events hosted by the King children, the remaining four of the original “Big Six” organizations and the march’s last living organizer, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), and other organizations such as the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
The main events will include a commemorative march and rally along the historic 1963 route and a “Global Freedom Festival.” The rally will be held at the Lincoln Memorial and the festival on the National Mall. Among the featured speakers and groups are: Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, the families of Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till; Lewis, and a host of Democratic officeholders and union officials.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 50 years ago remains one of the most successful mobilizations ever created by the American Left. Organized by a coalition of trade unionists, civil rights activists, and feminists of the day, most of them African American and nearly all of them Socialists – the protest drew nearly a quarter-million people to the Nation’s Capital. It was the largest such demonstration in the history of the United States and set the stage for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Unfortunately, many of the issues that gave rise to the March on Washington 50 years ago remain unfulfilled or under siege today. African Americans are still nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as Whites, a rate unchanged in the past 50 years. Actually, “March 2013” serves as bitter reminders of not only how far we still are from realizing “the vision for jobs and freedom”, it also underscores how ephemeral the gains made by the civil rights movement currently are in today’s society.
As Black Americans assemble in Washington D.C. again, it’s important that Blacks remember the role the late Bayard Rustin played in the march and subsequent movements. A proud Black gay man, Rustin served as an indispensable architect of the civil rights movement. His most noteworthy achievements include serving as chief organizer of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, mentoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and helping to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
Quiet and dignified throughout his career, Rustin probably would view with disdain the drama that D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities wrought when they allowed local gay activists to summarily dismiss gospel singer and Pastor Donnie McClurkin from performing at a concert, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
A spokesperson for Gray said that: “The Arts and Humanities Commission and Donnie McClurkin’s management decided that it would be best for him to withdraw because the purpose of the event is to bring people together,” said Doxie McCoy. “Mayor Gray said the purpose of the event is to promote peace and harmony… that King was all about.”
Whether MLK “was all about” deference to gay lifestyles is questionable. However, McClurkin said he was “asked not to attend,” and cites the article he penned on a Christian website in 2002 that said that he struggled with homosexuality. “I’ve been through this and have experienced God’s power to change my lifestyle,” McClurkin wrote. “I am delivered and I know God can deliver others, too.” A longtime gay rights activist, Phil Pannell, raised objections with the mayor’s office because he said McClurkin’s comments on homosexuality were not in keeping with the spirit of the “beloved community” about which King spoke. Surely, the Gray administration cut a check to McClurkin, his management and musicians.
William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.