(Trice Edney Wire) – As America prepares to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, civil rights leaders are declaring a rebirth of protests and demonstrations in the face of new injustices.
“Our protesting and organizing days are not over. They are beginning anew,” declared the Rev. Roslyn Brock, chair of the NAACP. “For 104 years, we have been keepers of the flame. We are those who burn with a desire to ensure justice for all. I challenge you tonight my friends, to take up the torches of freedom, liberty and justice. Go back to your neighborhood, towns, and states and shine a light on injustice where ever it may be found.”
That was the clarion call made by Brock in her opening speech at the NAACP Convention in Orlando in mid-July. Brock is not alone in her sentiments.
A week later, National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial told thousands at his annual convention in Philadelphia that recent infringements on civil rights have reignited the movement.
“In less than 30 days, we’ve seen the United States Supreme Court gut and disable a core provision of the Voting Rights Act that improved our democracy and was one of the crowning achievements of a civil rights generation whose sacrifices – of both life and limb – propelled us to more progress in the past 50 years than we had experienced since our nation’s inception,” Morial said. “In less than 30 days, we’ve seen a decision in Florida in the killing of a young unarmed teenager – one of our sons – once again bring to light the inequities in America’s criminal justice system. These events have sparked the flame of the 21st Century Civil Rights Movement. However, these events are not isolated – they join a growing list of old challenges.”
Asking the audience, “Can we count on you?” Morial echoed the song “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now!” and invited the audience to “Join us in Washington DC next month as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with the highest honor possible – by continuing its work and ushering in the change necessary for ongoing progress.”
In part, the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman in the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin has fueled the fiery moment. Even President Obama weighed in with a Black perspective on the racial disparities that remain.
But, as stated by Morial, it has been a convergence of civil rights events that has bought America back to a boil over the apparently digressing state of justice and equality. Among those events is the string of major civil rights anniversaries that have created an atmosphere of reflection and commemoration this year. Brock listed this year’s anniversaries as shining shine like “stars in the heavens”. Among them:
• 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (Jan. 1, 1863)
• 100th Anniversary of the death of Abolitionist Harriet Tubman (March 10, 1913)
• 100th Anniversary of the birth of Civil Rights Heroine Rosa Parks (Feb. 4, 1913)
• 50th Anniversary of the assassination of NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Wiley Evers (June 12, 1963)
• 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (August 28, 1963)
• 50th Anniversary of the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church (Sept. 15, 1963)
• 50th Anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Nov. 22, 1963)
The next commemoration, the August 24 march on the Washington Mall, launches a new season of unity and protest, predicts Ben Jealous, NAACP president/CEO.
“We will start this August by turning up the heat in every Congressional district, at every Senator’s Town Hall Meeting and on the National Mall at the March on Washington,” he said in his convention speech. “And we will continue to recruit new activists and dues-paying members into the NAACP family – with the energy and determination of an organization that understands that in a democracy. Organized people can win every time – but only if they are organized.”
The NAACP, at 104 years old, and the National Urban League, at 103, represent the oldest civil rights organizations in the country. But, they are joined in their sentiments by other Black leadership groups that are equally stable and respected. Those groups include Melanie Campbell’s Black Women’s Roundtable; Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network; Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; and Barbara Arnwine’s Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’ all of which have committed to uniting for an escalated movement.
Morial stressed that recent events are so impactful that they should not be exclusive to African-American protest.
“When I sat down to prepare these remarks and I started thinking about what I would say, I had no idea that the nation would be riveted and communities challenged in the way they have been in the past month. But the challenge before us now is to create a new “Civil Rights Movement for Economic Empowerment and Justice,” he said. “If 1963 was about Jobs and Freedom – two, zero, one, three is about economic empowerment and justice…a continuation movement standing on the shoulders of progress in which a new generation of Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, Jews, Gentiles, Protestants, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims – people from all walks of life, dispositions and orientations coalesce around working together to ensure that the promise of life, liberty and economic opportunity becomes real for this generation. We started it 50 years ago, and it’s time to finish our business.”