CANADIANS MARCH ON WASHINGTON ©
25th anniversary (1989) of Dr. King's historic march
Our 6:30 Friday morning bus left Toronto so discreetly, that if you did not know it, you wouldn't have realized that we were a seasoned group of Freedomriders bound for the 25th Anniversary March on Washington.
Burdened by the weight of the moment's history, I promptly fell asleep, to be jolted awake in one of those traffic jams for which the Gardiner Expressway in the City of Toronto is infamous.
Our doughty tour coordinator, Dawn Roach -daughter of Charlie and Hettie Roach, foremost civil-rights lawyers in Canada- had estimated that we could be in our Washington hotel in nine hours time. But our driver, suffering from the allergies among other things, got us there twelve hours later, with just enough time to hear the Rev. Jesse Jackson preach in Shiloh, the oldest Black Baptist church in the city.
The rest is history.
But history, itself, may not only be a destination at which we arrive, but also a manner of travelling.
If this is so, then the trip was historic for its workshops, singalongs, drumming, conversations, discussions and snorings which caused drafts along the route!
As we beetled our way across Cheyenne country between the dark-green peaks of the Allegheny Mountains we passionately discussed the issue of non-violence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had successfully used this method in the Civil Rights Movement, and it was the accepted modus operandi for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC which he then led. Our debate was polarised on the question of whether or not, non-violence, for oppressed peoples is to be used as a tactic or as a strategy? Should it be employed in some circumstances, only? Or should it be employed under all conditions? We agreed, generally, that non-violence was an ideal; and that Dr. King was a man familiar with both the valleys of despair and with the mountain peaks of courage and vision.
But he was a man of vision, and not merely a dreamer.
This fact was made clear by Jesse who repeated the contents and explained the meaning of Dr. King's 1963 speech from that historic March on Washington. The fact that that speech has come to be known as the, I Have A Dream, speech shows the extent to which the American establishment has hijacked the true intent of Dr. King's message. According to the contents of that speech, it should have been known as the, I, As A Black American Have Been Given A Bad Cheque, speech.
Dr. King had drawn attention to the fact that Black Americans were also among the heirs to the promises of the American Constitution that all peoples were created equal. Black people had slaved on cotton plantations and in inhuman sweatshops. They had helped build America, and when they had tried to cash in their cheque at the Bank of Justice, it had been returned, marked, NSF (Not Sufficient Funds). NSF for equal education, housing, employment and participation in all aspects of American life.
As Rev. Jackson succinctly summarised it, "Any body could dream. But when you awaken, you may still be sleeping in the park. Dr. King was not a dreamer. He was not an idealist afraid of reality; but he was a realist with high ideals!"
Mine eyes have seen the Glory of Jesse speak three times in one weekend! When you add to this the presence of such legendary Black Americans as Dick Gregory; the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, leader of the SCLC; Benjamin Hooks, of the NAACP; as well as a pantheon of Black delegates, Senators, screen stars, you can understand why some members in our coterie misplaced their spouses, forgot their wallets, and couldn't find themselves!
At the Lincoln Memorial, platform themes ranged from the crying need for affordable daycare; through the overdue need to totally isolate apartheid South Africa; to the desperate need for Americans to do, "more hugging 'n less drugging".
However, despite the obvious presence in the 100 000 strong demonstration of large clusters of women and youth, and people from the Palestinian and Native communities, their issues were under-represented. It was mostly people like Jesse Jackson and Mrs. Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. King, who addressed these issues.
Even Michael Dukakis, the underwhelming Democratic nominee for the U.S. Presidential elections in November, could condemn racism and anti-Semitism; but not anti-Arabism.
Missing from the platform, too, were other Black Americans who play(ed) significant roles in the struggle for equality by peoples of colour in the U.S. Among those missing were surviving members of the Black Panthers, as well as Angela Davis and Kwame Toure (Stokeley Carmichael). In addition, the three most popular buttons worn on this August 27th included those for Martin, for Mandela, and for Malcolm X. Yet THE X was briefly mentioned once!
Martin and Malcolm differed in their methods, but not in their determination to help end racism. They also respected each other, and were both magnanimous and truthful men.
If the truth is not sufficient, then, what is? If the general pursuit of truth is not the basis for remembering history; then, what is history for?
Jim Crow America stole the contents of Martin's 1963 speech. Then they assassinated him after they had assassinated Malcolm X. And for the same reason. He had challenged their attempts to deface the humanity of Black people. For twenty-five more years, the establishment has tried to defer payment on its bounced cheque.
Today, we, the heirs of Martin and of Malcolm must defeat attempts by the genteel racists at home and abroad to tell us who we should honour and who we should ignore. If they succeed in this, they will continue to ignore our just claims for compensation and equality! We have travelled too far, suffered too long, and fought too hard to allow Jim Crow to turn us around!
So, how long shall they kill our history while we stand aside and look? We'll discuss that on the Freedomride to Ottawa in May 1989!
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