Julian Bond, famous civil rights activist, wrote an article in USA Today this year on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. His selective memory pointed out the similarities of today’s economic woes of blacks to those of the 1960s. Unfortunately for him, his gloom-colored glasses did not spend enough time celebrating black breakthroughs in the political world, such as the first black president, two black Secretaries of State, numerous black mayors (even in unlikely locations like Utah). He also failed to mention the numerous blacks that have headed major Fortune 500 companies, started flourishing businesses, not to mention building literal empires in music, film and entertainment.
I jokingly refer to ground-breaking black “Millionaires Clubs,” which have their weekly meetings all over the United States. These clubs are the NFL, NBA, NBL and other professional sports organizations. These statistics are in addition to the fact that in 1965 there would have been no black middle class to speak of when Dr. King talked about the bounced check in his famous speech. To add insult to injury Julian Bond forgot to remind America that the NAACP, of which he is the chair, has recently diverted itself from moving the need for racial reconciliation from the front burner of America’s public policy concern. It now is attempting to advance gay rights as well, despite the socially conservative nature of a great number of its members.
Could it be that Bond forgot to remind us that there was a unified black civil rights movement 50 years ago but he now is one of numerous black leaders who have lost the urgency and focus they once had.
In retrospect, the specific policy objectives of the march—which included securing voting rights, desegregating schools, raising the minimum wage and implementing a federal job training program—feel almost secondary. What we remember most about the march was the vision Dr. King laid out for what America could be.
The March on Washington set a standard for impact and effectiveness which all protestors since have been seeking without success to match. The marchers unquestionably changed history touching the conscience of a nation. The advocates of nearly every cause since that time—from animal rights activists to radical environmentalists—have ached to capture just a fraction of the moral authority the March on Washington protesters possessed. Have any done so?
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.