PD Editorial: America before and after the march

  • The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd of about 200,000 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, civil rights march in Washington. Illustrates KIDSPOST-MARCH (category l), by Marylou Tousignant © 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Courtesy of U.S. Marines)

History is replete with signal moments. For Americans, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 is one of them.

Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the march, a gathering of 250,000 people on the National Mall demanding, among other things, an end to segregation and racial discrimination. Culminating the rally, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his most famous speech.

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,'" he said from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Newspaper editorials condemned the march, warning that it could turn violent. President John F. Kennedy, a civil rights supporter, worried about a backlash.

Instead, King's speech captured the nation's attention, and the march became an enduring image of the civil rights era.

But it was just a step in a continuing journey to King's promised land. Resistance to civil rights remained strong and, at times, violent.

Almost a year passed before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, and only after debates marked by harsh denunciations of integration and a Senate filibuster that lasted 90 days. Yet another year went by before the Voting Rights Act became law.

Along the way, four young girls died in a bombing at a church in Birmingham, Ala., and three men working on a voter registration campaign disappeared in Mississippi. Their bodies were later found buried in an earthen dam.

Five decades later, progress is undeniable. Jim Crow is history. So are bombings and lynchings. Schools and other public facilities are integrated. Universities defend diversity, not segregation. Barack Obama is president.

Yet minorities are still more likely to be born in poverty and experience unemployment. Public schools may be desegregated, but quality isn't equal. And there's a renewed attack to voting rights.

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