August 28th marks the fortieth anniversary of an event that captured the attention of people around the world. On that date in 1963, more than two-hundred-fifty thousand Americans gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D-C, to take part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The marchers had a number of goals. But above all, they wanted black Americans to be treated the same as white Americans, in law and in practice.
The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior, set the tone when he said:
“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”
Before his assassination in 1968, Martin Luther King would win the Nobel peace prize for his non-violent approach to winning equal rights for black Americans. Today, forty years after the March on Washington, its goals have largely been achieved.
Segregation has been abolished in the U.S. Indeed, many colleges and businesses now have “affirmative action” programs that give special status to blacks and others who apply. Americans of all races are guaranteed the opportunity to vote. The number of elected black officials has increased dramatically. Today, African Americans hold important appointed positions -- including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
As President George W. Bush said, “Through the efforts of heroes like Martin Luther King, Junior, and other brave men and women of the civil rights movement, our nation has made progress in battling racism and building a society that more fully lives up to its democratic ideals.”