Today is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s famous March on Washington. Today, 50 years after Dr. King spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Barack Obama spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. That’s pretty cool.
We have not fulfilled the dream of Dr. King, but we’re a lot closer than we were in those days. But we still have work to do. Today we remember the great work that Dr. King did to put us on this path, and we respect that work by trying very hard to stay on that path: we have to restore the voting rights struck down this summer; we’re taking steps toward remedying the inequalities in incarceration in this country; we need to work on inequalities in unemployment rates and violence. We have work to do. We need to remember, today, that King’s speech was not just about his dream. It was about the problems that needed to be remedied. We remember, today, that 50 years ago he warned us: “We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote, and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.” We are not satisfied. The dream is not done. We have work to do.
But I also want to say that today we don’t just remember Dr. King’s great march and speech. Today we also need to remember the reason that the march was held on August 28 in the first place: we need to remember Emmett Till. Emmett Till was a 14-year-old child who committed the horrific crime of speaking to a white woman in Mississippi in 1955…because, of course, a black male speaking to a white woman must have nefarious motives. For that transgression, he was pulled out of his home in the middle of the night, tortured, and murdered by two white men who were acquitted of the killing.
Today is 50 years after Dr. King’s speech, but it’s nearly 60 years after Emmett Till was lynched, and last year we’ve just seen another child killed for no reason at all, because his killer assumed that a black male out after dark must have nefarious motives. Again, this summer the killer was acquitted of murder. We’ve grown as a culture, but as individuals, we’re still making the same racist assumptions, and as a legal system, we still have flaws. Today is a celebration, but it is also an admonition. Because we have work to do.
August 28, 2013