This weekend marks the 47th anniversary of the famed March on Washington - the crowning glory or turning point in the civil rights movement. It was also this march, which catapulted the “I Have A Dream Message” to the front pages of papers and eventually captured the imagination of the Nobel Peace Prize judges. The question for this coming weekend will be, “What would Martin do about the social ills of our day?”
Both conservatives and liberals will voice their opinions this weekend. But why prompt an Armageddon over the legacy of Dr. King? A little history may be appropriate here. Several months ago the Glenn Beck Show chose this date for its Restoring Honor Rally and secured the Lincoln Memorial location, apparently not even realizing the King tie-in until later. The Honor Rally was originally designed as a spiritually oriented event to show the nation that the community of faith is united behind “our unswerving commitment to be ‘One Nation Under God.’ ”
Then enter Rev. Al Sharpton, who decided to develop a competing rally. Trumped by Beck’s location and media platform, Sharpton has organized a march accusingly titled, “Reclaiming the Dream.” Sharpton’s website invites “progressive” organizations to march with him for reform of immigration, healthcare, and other social justice issues. Beck’s rally originally was cast as spiritual, while Rev. Sharpton and his allies have characterized his march as a protest to Beck’s event. Further, Sharpton’s march sounds like an overtly, politically driven throwback to the ’60s - without the focus and fire of King’s original event.
This weekend these two groups will face off in Washington, DC: Glen Beck with his Restoring Honor Rally and Al Sharpton with his Reclaiming the Dream Rally. As these rallies descend on my city this weekend - every hotel room will be taken and over a million people are expected to join them. One group is ostensibly white, conservative, and largely Republican. The other group is predominately black, liberal, and largely Democratic. Both groups will have descendants of MLK as part of their presentation teams - Martin Luther King, III with Sharpton and Alveda King (MLK’s niece) with Beck. Both will claim that they represent the true spirit of King’s legacy. One group will label the other un-American, while the other claims its opponent is racist.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.