I was delighted and frankly a bit intimidated when offered the remarkable opportunity to write this piece commemorating the 50th
anniversary of the historic March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech preached by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
What would I write? I am not, by profession a historian. How could I squeeze so much important history into a few hundred words?
I reached out to ORU Dean Emeritus Dr. Clarence Oliver who was born the same year as Dr. King, as was my dad, John W. Jones Jr.
I also sought input from him and my mom. These people lived the reality of that time and remember.
I’ve decided to write a letter to you, the students of this great university.
How do I describe and convey the emotionally and spiritually charged meaning of that march, the culmination of a struggle that was on-going since slavery? What can I say to hip you to the fact that, as Dr. Melissa Harris Perry of Tulane University says, “…the struggle continues?”
Why is it so terribly important that we “grow not weary in well doing?”
Background: 50 years ago, before some of your parents were born, people of color were having a rough time in the
United States. Look at your roommate, classmates and fellow students; look up the term “Jim Crow laws” and consider what it must have been like not to be able to sit together at the movies, use the same bathroom or be treated in an emergency room simply because
of what one looked like.
The original march of 1963 was called The March for Jobs and Freedom.
Did you know that a similar march was planned in 1941 by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters? Look it up. Neither the march nor the speech was spontaneous.
People believed in and still believe in America and the Declaration of Independence that states all of us are “…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” —Yet many Americans were relegated to second class citizenship for no other reason than their gender and/or the color of their skin.
You may think that was 50 years ago! Things are different now. I agree with you in part.
People of color can reasonably expect to get treated in any emergency room. Everyone can sit where they like in the movie theater now and we can all use the same restroom.
Many have received degrees from prestigious institutions, and work in professional and executive positions. But, there’s still much to do.
Present Ground: Did you know The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were both signed into law in 1964 by President Johnson the very next year after the 1963 March on Washington aka the March for Jobs and Freedom? Those were great strides in the right direction.
Why must the struggle continue? Why can’t everyone just be content? Have you read about the current efforts to “un-do” what the Voting Rights Act provided? Are you aware that in the first quarter of this year alone there have been more than 55 new voting restrictions placed in motion?
Some of them impact college students! Be sure to check that out.
Even though a law for equal pay for equal work was signed into law in 1964, there still exists a significant gap in pay as women make 80.9 cents for every dollar a man makes, and this disparity is even more dramatic for women of color who make about 57 cents for every dollar a man makes and that’s up from 54 cents in the 1960’s.
Fore Ground: In the face of on-going issues around “Stand Your Ground” and racial profiling as we seek to be a more globally culturally competent people, I hope I’ve written something that honors the original spirit of Dr. King’s speech, noted some of the progress we’ve made in the last 50 years and challenged all of us to keep dreaming of “ONE nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for ALL.”
Keep praying for peace in our country and around the world, keep loving and forgiving as Christ commanded us and make a commitment to work toward the goals set forth by a man who had a God-given dream.
I hope we read and re-read this speech, this urgent message over and over, year after year….until it is realized fully.
Editor’s note: Dr. Tapp teaches graduate education classes and is a member of ORU’s diversity committee.