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Sharing in the dream

Forty years ago today, more than 225,000 people joined the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the "I Have a Dream" speech that would from that time on evoke the aspirations of those civil rights protesters.

The march was inspired by A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and vice president of the AFL-CIO, who had first advocated such a march in 1941. He called that one off after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination in hiring for defense plants.

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Much of the work for the 1963 march was done by Bayard Rustin, an early protege of Randolph's who organized the first Freedom Ride in 1947. King was not the only civil rights leader of the day to speak. He was joined by Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Whitney M. Young Jr., executive director of the National Urban League; James Farmer, national director of the Congress of Racial Equality; and John Lewis, national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Their words have been largely overlooked, overshadowed by the majesty of King's speech. Listening to them today, they can summon powerful feelings - great shame at the reprehensible attitudes that America tolerated for so long, great pride at the courage of the people who dared to fight for what was right.

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Following are excerpts from two of those speeches, one by Randolph and one by Rabbi Joachim Prinz, president of the American Jewish Congress. The German-born Prinz was expelled from Germany in 1937 after warning his countrymen about the Nazi threat. He went on to become rabbi at Temple B'nai Abraham in Newark, N.J., and an energetic civil rights leader and demonstrator. (Some of the 1963 speeches can be heard at www.hpol.org, and the Prinz speech can be found at www.joachimprinz.com.)

A. Philip Randolph

We are gathered here in the largest demonstration in the history of this nation. Let the nation and the world know the meaning of our numbers. We are not a pressure group; we are not a mob. We are the advance guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom.

This revolution reverberates throughout the land, touching every city, every town, every village where black men are segregated, oppressed and exploited. But this civil rights revolution is not confined to the negro; nor is it confined to civil rights; for our white allies know that they cannot be free while we are not.

And we know that we have no future in a society in which 6 million black and white people are unemployed, and millions more live in poverty. Nor is the goal of our civil rights revolution merely the passage of civil rights legislation. ...

For one thing we must destroy the notion that ... property rights include the right to humiliate me because of the color of my skin. The sanctity of private property takes second place to the sanctity of the human personality. ...

We are in the forefront because we know we cannot expect the realization of our aspirations through the same old anti-democratic social institutions and philosophies that have all along frustrated our aspirations.

And so we have taken our struggle into the streets as the labor movement took its struggle into the streets, as Jesus Christ led the multitude through the streets of Judea. The plain and simple fact is that until we went into the streets the federal government was indifferent to our demands. It was not until the streets and jails of Birmingham were filled that Congress began to think about civil rights legislation.

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It was not until thousands demonstrated in the South that lunch counters and other public accommodations were integrated. It was not until the Freedom Riders were brutalized in Alabama that the 1946 Supreme Court decision banning discrimination in interstate travel was enforced. And it was not until construction sites were picketed in the North that negro workers were hired.

Those who deplore our militance, who exhort patience in the name of a false peace, are in fact supporting segregation and exploitation. They would have social peace at the expense of social and racial justice. They are more concerned with easing racial tension than enforcing racial democracy. ...

The march on Washington is not the climax of our struggle but a new beginning, not only for the negro but for all Americans who thirst for freedom and a better life.

Look for the enemies of Medicare, higher minimum wages, of Social Security, of federal aid to education, and there you will find the enemy of the negro, the coalition of Dixiecrats and reactionary Republicans that seek to dominate the Congress.

We must develop strength in order that we may be able to back and support the civil rights program of President Kennedy. ... A massive crusade must be launched against the unholy coalition of Dixiecrats and the racists that seek to strangle Congress.

We here today are only the first wave. ... We shall return again and again to Washington in ever-growing numbers until total freedom is ours.

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Joachim Prinz

I speak to you as an American Jew.

As Americans we share the profound concern of millions of people about the shame and disgrace of inequality and injustice which makes a mockery of the great American idea.

As Jews we bring to the great demonstrations, in which thousands of us proudly participate, a twofold experience - one of the spirit and one of our history.

In the realm of the spirit, our fathers taught us thousands of years ago that when God created man, he created him as everybody's neighbor. Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man's dignity and integrity.

From our Jewish historic experience of three and a half thousand years we say:

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Our ancient history began with slavery and the yearning for freedom. During the Middle Ages my people lived for a thousand years in the ghettos of Europe. Our modern history begins with a proclamation of emancipation.

It is for these reasons that it is not merely sympathy and compassion for the black people of America that motivates us. It is above all and beyond all such sympathies and emotions a sense of complete identification and solidarity born of our own painful historic experience.

When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned in my life and under those tragic circumstances is that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problems. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.

A great people which had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder.

America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent. Not merely black America, but all of America. It must speak up and act, from the president down to the humblest of us, and not for the sake of the negro, not for the sake of the black community but for the sake of the image, the dream, the idea and the aspiration of America itself.

Our children, yours and mine in every school across the land, every morning pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the republic for which it stands. And then they, the children, speak fervently and innocently of this land as the land of "liberty and justice for all."

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The time, I believe, has come to work together - for it is not enough to hope together, and it is not enough to pray together - to work together that this children's oath, pronounced every morning from Maine to California, from North to South, that this oath will become a glorious, unshakeable reality in a morally renewed and united America.


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