Let Freedom Ring: Women Play Greater Role In 50th Anniversary Of The March On Washington
As you surely know by now, today marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s legendary “I Have A Dream” speech. One of the major criticisms from that historic event back in 1963, was the fact that the women were completely left off the program. Dorothy Height, the woman who headed the National Council of Negro Women, was supposed to speak that day but something happened. Thelma Daley, director of Women in the NAACP, told the Washington Post they were waiting for her to speak: “We didn’t know the full story. We didn’t know the dynamics. We didn’t know the inner workings. She was too much of a diplomat to tell us.”
Though women weren’t on the program, their presence was still felt. Gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson encouraged Dr. King to deliver the most famous line from his speech that day: “I Have A Dream.” He had delivered the “I Have A Dream” line before in Detroit and his advisers didn’t want him to use it again. But Mahalia Jackson, who sang at the ’63 march, yelled out during his speech, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin.” And that’s when he started the iconic line with “I still have a dream…”
Today, in the program itself we saw just how far we’ve advanced. We still have work to do but this year, women were surely involved in the program. Check out the short listen of women who spoke at the #LetFreedomRing event.
Marcia Fudge, US Representative for Ohio and chair for the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke earlier this afternoon and quoted Dr. King saying that 1963 was not an end but a beginning. She spoke about the inequalities in our criminal justice system and our economic opportunities.
Oprah needs no introduction. You know who she is. Today, she took the opportunity to speak and remind the crowd that we can honor Dr. King’s legacy by dedicating ourselves to a life of service: “As we, the people, continue to honor the dream of a man and a movement,” she said, “we can be inspired, and we too can be courageous by continuing to walk in the footsteps in the path that he forged.”
Though the trial that could have potentially brought justice to the death of her son Trayvon Martin, did not end well, Sybrina Fulton has not given up the fight. In the weeks since the verdict was read, she has been speaking against the injustices of not only the “Stand Your Ground” law but also New York’s racially motivated “Stop and Frisk” policy. Today she gave a tribute to her son by performing with Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mark Barden, the father of Daniel Barden, one of the student victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.
Mylerie Evers-Williams is the widow of Medgar Evers, the Civil Rights activist who was gunned down by a K.KKlan member. Myerlie was actually invited to speak at the original March on Washington but was unable to attend. Being that her husband was killed in front of his own home, she spoke about the controversial and racially unjust “Stand Your Ground” laws. She said we should turn the phrase around and use it positively: “We [must] stand firm on the ground that we have already made and be sure that nothing is taken away from us.”
Surprisingly, she took some responsibility in dropping the ball in terms of passing the torch to the next generation: “I think that my generation has failed in the sense that we have not been able to transfer the urgency of that particular time forward.”
She also mentioned the presence of misogyny in the Civil Right’s movement: “I was told in so many ways and by so many people, particularly men, you can’t do this job. And I had to remind them that evidently they had not read my resume and seen what I had done personally on my own, and that I was the widow of Medgar Evers, but I was my own woman with my own accomplishments.”
Bernice started her speech proclaiming that she was just five months old when her father delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. She said she was probably crawling on the floor or taking a nap as he took the podium. But she made sure to acknowledge that the fight continued first with her mother Coretta Scott King and then with her. She preached a sermon her voice rising and straining as she spoke about sexual, gender, racial and economic equality. But she also acknowledged the progress we’ve made. She said 50 years ago, the President of the United States did not attend the event, but today there were three presidents in attendance. She said that in 1963, there was not a single woman on the program, but this year there were plenty. Bernice was the last person to speak, shouting “let freedom ring” shortly before the King family collectively rang the liberty bell to mark the 3’o clock hour when her father spoke all those years ago.
Eighty five year old, Christine King Farris took the podium and said that of all the people in attendance today, she is the only one who knew Martin when he was a baby. King-Farris, who is two years older than Dr. King said she didn’t get to attend the original speech 50 years ago. But she watched on television and was awe struck by what she saw. She said that she knew he was going to deliver that day but she is happy today to see how Dr. King’s words still live on in the heart of humanity and will for years to come. She acknowledged though that we have much to do before Dr. King’s vision can be a reality. She ended her speech by saying, “Yes they can slay the dreamer but no they can not destroy the dream.”