The following post is from one of our other sites, It’s Not Political, It’s Just Life.
RETROSPECTIVE: WHERE WERE YOU?
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28th, 1963. Like all Black Americans, my household was glued to the television, watching so many people standing up for their inalienable rights. There were all races, ages, rich, poor; a cornucopia of American society was there. Dr. Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, and his other compadres that day were shining examples to the world on how one could gather hundreds of thousands and remain on one accord. God was surely in that place.
So much was going on around the country in the Movement, I think that’s when I became attached to watching the news every night. Prior to this March, there were the ‘disturbances’ in Greenwood, MS in the Spring, when SNCC was registering people to vote. Then, there was rallying in Birmingham, AL, where the NAACP was outlawed. Next, there was the murder of Medgar Evers in June of ’63. So many things took place that year prior to the March on Washington, it was really a culmination of a mass rallying cry from all over the country. That was a lot to digest for someone under 10 years old, watching them all on TV and full of unanswered questions. And don’t forget, the 4 little girls killed in the church bombing at Birmingham in September after the March.
However, even with those events seared into my brain, I did not really hear Dr. King’s speech at the March until about 20 years ago, long after it took place. I must thank my former business partner for bringing it to my attention. U.S. History, constantly altered to serve those who want to control the masses, has always emphasized the part towards the end when he talks about having a dream. Totally ignored is the first half, when he runs down the list of America’s transgressions against Black folk, specifically in regard to voting, public accommodations and economic parity as citizens.
Dr. King’s exact words were:
“In a sense, we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”
TIME TO MAKE THE CHECK GOOD!
The state of this country right now depends on it righting the wrongs it’s ignored for so long. Yes, there’s been exponential progress made since Dr. King’s death, but there has also been the same amount of retrogression. Think about it. 15 years ago in 1998, Black people and in fact, all minorities, were marching steadily forward in economic parity via the middle class, and the poverty levels were decreasing. Yes, there was still discrimination in home and auto loans, but you know something? We had the money to pay for those discrepancies, however wrong they were.
An article in Huff Post mentioned that the minimum wage of 1963 was higher than the one we suffer through now, because the buying power of the money was greater, making the adjusted minimum wage 12% higher than today. Actually, if the minimum wage had kept up like it’s supposed to with inflation, it would be around $16.52 now.
Pensions were gutted in the name of ‘unions getting too much,’ and many jobs no longer exist as we allowed Japan and other countries to undercut the industries that the U.S. was built upon. Millions of people worked all of those years, only to have their retirement money go up in smoke, either from Wall St.’s disregard for their 401 k funds, or from the value of the money itself depreciating to a point it became a joke. In both private and public sector corporations, CEOs are making over 350 times their average employee. And no one even blinks.
Five years after the grand march in Washington in 1968, Dr. King was speaking to garbage workers in Memphis about one month before his murder and the Mountaintop speech. This one paragraph wraps up the majority of our situation today:
“Now the problem isn’t only unemployment. Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working everyday? They are making wages so low that they can not begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen. And it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.”
Further down in this same speech, Dr. King talked about America going to hell for ignoring its poor. 50 years later, where are we, except in that same place? He illustrated the parable of Dives, who ignored Lazarus during his life, but tried to talk to him in death with the ‘great gulf fixed‘ between them. Too late, Jack! You should have thought about that while ignoring Lazarus’ plight, because you saw him every day:
“You know, Jesus reminded us in a magnificent parable one day that a man went to Hell because he didn’t see the poor. And his name was Dives. There was a man by the name of Lazarus who came daily to his gate in need of the basic necessities of life. Dives didn’t do anything about it. He ended up going to Hell.
But there is nothing in that parable that says that Dives went to Hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. It is true that one day a rich young ruler came before him talking about eternal life. And he advised him to sell all. But in that instance Jesus was prescribing individual surgery, and not setting forth a universal diagnosis.
If you will go on and read that parable in all of its dimensions, and all of its symbolism, you will remember that a conversation took place between Heaven and Hell. And on the other end of that long distance call between heaven and Hell was Abraham in Heaven talking to Dives in Hell. It wasn’t a millionaire in Hell talking with a multimillionaire in heaven. Dives didn’t go to Hell because he was rich. His wealth was an opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus.
Dives went to Hell because he passed by Lazarus every day, but he never really saw him. Dives went to Hell because he allowed Lazarus to become invisible. Dives went to Hell because he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived. Dives went to Hell because he maximized the minimum, and minimized the maximum. Dives finally went to Hell because he wanted to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.
And I come by here to say that America too is going to Hell, if we don’t use her wealth. If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty, to make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to Hell. I will hear America through her historians years and years to come saying, “We built gigantic buildings to kiss the sky. We build gargantuan bridges to span the seas. Through our spaceships we were able to carve highways through the stratosphere. Through our airplanes we were able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. Through our submarines we were able to penetrate oceanic depths.”
But it seems that I can hear the God of the universe saying, “even though you’ve done all of that, I was hungry and you fed me not. I was naked and ye clothed me not. The children of my sons and daughters were in need of economic security, and you didn’t provide for them. So you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness.” This may well be the indictment on America that says in Memphis to the mayor, to the power structure, “If you do it unto the least of these my brethren, you do it unto me.”…
FIFTY YEARS LATER, CHANGES ARE UNDONE
This is so pertinent today. It’s so unfortunate that after 50 years, we have the same problems, and in some cases, even more. The murder rate among Black people killing each other in ’63 was nowhere near where we see it now. There were villages raising children then. Many of you remember that if you did something as a child, not only would the adult who was close at hand chastise you, people on your way home would, too, and your parents would definitely have been told what happened way before you arrived. That was another whooping, on top of the previous ones. It worked, didn’t it?
The progress made due to the blood sacrifice of the Civil Rights pioneers and everyday people involved is eroded on multiple fronts today. Not only did the Supreme Court remove an important component of the Voting Rights Act, we are taking out our frustrations on each other, rather than coming together as our forefathers did to attack the problems at the source.
You can read what happened on multiple fronts and view captivating pictures of this struggle on the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement website, which chronologically recounts what happened during those years. There’s nothing else to say, because Dr. King said it all, and his words are still so pertinent today. The people of the Movement had a backbone that made them walk into the lion’s den with no fear, and say give us what’s due, NOW. This 21st Century generation can’t be compared to them, in bravery, determination, in raw unadulterated FAITH. If we had an ounce of what they had, we’d turn this thing around tomorrow. But God knows.
Luke 16:25-31, King James Version (KJV)
 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.  And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.  Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:  For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.  Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.  And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.  And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
- King Speech 50 Years on Shows Blacks’ Distress Disproportionate (bloomberg.com)
- Chicagoans head to DC for 50th anniversary of March on Washington (cltv.com)
- How March on Washington organizer Bayard Rustin was betrayed by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. (blogs.montrealgazette.com)
- Demands for Better Working Conditions, Wages Still Resonate 50 Years after MLK Speech (acslaw.org)
- Commentary: It’s Time to Dream Bigger (bet.com)
- Mark Ridley-Thomas: With Dr. King’s Dream for Jobs Deferred, Economic Justice Is Denied (huffingtonpost.com)