The March on Washington: 50 Years Later

August 28, 2013
Exact Location Where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Gave His 'I Have a Dream Speech' Marked at the Lincoln Memorial

The year was 1963.  I was a first-grader in New York City and the country was electrified. Buses were being chartered by the hundreds for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington.  And they came -- hundreds of thousands of people from across the country.

My grandmother and I watched on television, as my parents and neighbors headed to the March.  Even in black and white, it was clear the atmosphere was charged.  Meanwhile, like many of my peers, I was attending Freedom School in the basement of the local church, learning Dr. King's principles of non-violence.  His teachings continued when, on Human Rights Day 1965, I listened on at Hunter College as Dr. King proclaimed, "We are in an era in which the issue of human rights is the central question confronting all nations."  That issue remains vital 50 years on -- and in it, I found my life's work and passion.

Following that speech,  I asked Mrs. King for her address, and wrote her a letter about how the encounter affected me. Her hand-written reply showed me that leaders can also be personable. Fast-forward 10 years and I'd become Mrs. King's "other daughter" -- best friend to their eldest Yolanda, with whom I went on to teach non-violent techniques throughout West Africa in 1981.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic event that continues to galvanize generation after generation in the pursuit of equality for all mankind.  Now, as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, appointed by the first African American President of the United States, I work only a few short blocks from where it all started.  I have the tremendous honor of continuing -- and living -- the dream of helping people claim their inalienable rights, in every nation across the globe.

Two years ago, I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, the very framework that envisioned the more perfect union at the heart of Dr. King's dream.  Its hallowed words guide me each time I take up the fight for international religious freedom and remind me how proud I am to be an American -- to live in a system that exposes wrongs and allows us to correct them.

About the Author: Suzan Johnson Cook is the third Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom (AAL), appointed May 16, 2011.  The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 designated the AAL to be the Principal Advisor to the President and Secretary of State on religious freedom worldwide. You can follow her journey on Facebook and Twitter.

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Comments

Comments

Evan P.
|
California, USA
August 28, 2013
It has been said before, but it is worth repeating: Dr. King had a dream. President Obama has a drone.
Eric J.
|
New Mexico, USA
August 29, 2013

As I watched and listened to the President "updating" the dream, and giving report to the American people on the measure of its worth and progress attained, I couldn't help but be aware of the context of his decision soon to be made regarding impending response to a civil rights violation of a gross order of magnitude in Syria.

I sure hope folks in MENA region draw some inspiration as they proceed in their own experiments in democracy that it is possible to get satisfaction from one's government in response to the people's will and call for change....or to create one that is.

 In order for nations to undertake their own "regime replacement therapy" ,  at least there's a working model to take example from...a "blueprint" of sorts...but then only because the US gov. was a shocked at the violence along with the rest of the public to enact the legistlation the civil rights movement was calling for, in a "political solution"...to put it in current diplomatic terminology.

 Because I think we are who we are as a nation, we've evolved to become tolerant of one another., and intolerant of intolerance at the same time.

 But what of us had it gone differently? If we hadn't the institutional frameworks in place for laws to be challenged as being not in keeping with our nation's founding principals? If intolerance was a mindset locked in unwavering at the highest levels of government with a willingness to stop protest at any cost, rather than apply judicious restraint as policy?

 I can't say for sure, but there's enough example of that lately on the international stage to warrant a fair hypothisis.

 The flip side of successful non-violent call for change by the masses that MLK created, is what we see today in Syria, at it's most extreme result.

 Unless I'm mistaken, the President layed out the basis for a humanitarian response by the international community to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons..."life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness"...isn't simply civil rights for Americans.

 And a response that would secure those rights for the Syrian people in the face of the genocide being perpetrated upon them by the regime would certainly merit a response , for the failure to protect populations falls not only on Assad and those who support him, but all nations, should such crimes continue.

 Just as the American government surrendered to MLK's reasoning, unconditionally, permanently and fundementally changed by the experience of non-violent change for the good of the nation and its citizens; I don't know why anyone in this government would accept less than Assad's unconditional surrender to the will of the international community , especially if it involves the use of force to secure the Syrian people's basic human rights.

 There are of course any number of criteria required in order to do that on a practical level, given that Assad has all but completely destroyed his nation's economy, housing and social infrastructure, as well as torn asunder the previous existing social fabric of Syrian society.

  Anyone that contemplates a short-term engagement is not willing to go the distance to protect populations , as I've said before a "Marshall Plan" for Syria will be required to bring that nation full circle...in a decade...it'll take that long just to restore cities and housing at this point, from a construction worker's perspective.

 And as long as folks reading this will accept the premis that a US construction worker might know a thing or two about "nation building"...let me just ad that it ain't our's to build for them, but often times folks get by with a little help from ttheir friends, for the heavy lifting of tyranical burden before anything can be built by political process or other means.

  EJ-8/29/13

 

Marilyn v.
|
Netherlands
September 4, 2013
I have a dream too, for Syria I wish we coul take away 20 million people so the country would be empty and no one would die. The idea is that if 80 countries propose a "holiday" to 250.000 people for the time needed to restore peace and democratie we don't need to spent billions to warfair. I thought it was a great idea, what do you think ?
Marilyn v.
|
Netherlands
September 4, 2013
My dream for Syria, if 80 countries invite 250.000 Syrians for a "holiday" , there will be no bloodshet or killing. Plus the rest of the world don't have to think so long about going to war, which will cost billions of money we don.t have anymore because of the financial crisis. I just sent a mail to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, I hope he will bring this idea to the EU, European Parliament. And maybe President Obama thinks it is a good idea too, and if everybody agrees, maybe the United Nations could help implement it. What do you think? Is there a possibility that this may be the first step, ofcourse then the real work has to begin and all the things you write about have to be imptemented.

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