The giant retrospective the country is having this week about the march on Washington 50 years ago is not about self-congratulation, it is about the meaning of history, and to me that meaning seems very clear. Fight Islamophobia.
Yesterday on NPR, Cokie Roberts reminded people that what we celebrate and join hands on today was extremely controversial inside the establishment 50 years ago, and proper young people like herself were torn:
I was at a student political meeting at the time of the march [presumably Wellesley College]. … But the – it was very, very controversial. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was there at the meeting, trying to get support for the march. And we students, you know, went way out on a limb saying: Well, we endorsed the goals but not the march itself.
You have to understand how frightened people were that this was going to be a violent mess. My father was the Democratic whip at the House at the time. He was very close with President Kennedy. They were concerned that it would just set back all of the movement toward civil rights if there was any violence at this march.
Now, of course just the opposite happened. As a result of the march and unfortunately the assassinations, three landmark civil acts bills were passed: the ’64 Public Accommodations Bill, the ’65 Voting Rights Bill, and the ’68 Open Housing Bill.
Roberts’s candor should be applauded. And it reminds us of the importance of taking stands on issues that divide people, the importance of being on the right side of history.
Today there are matters that are just as controversial, causes that seem right but are frightening because they seem to pose the risk of violence and disorder. Like, opposing the occupation of Palestine, NSA surveillance, and the demonization of Muslims.
Will the world rock off its hinges if you join these causes? Or, as Roberts said: will just the opposite happen?
Here’s a great way to celebrate the march on Washington:
Tomorrow at 5 pm, the group representing the Westchester Coalition Against Islamophobia will meet at 5 p.m. sharp on the SE corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Martine Ave. in central White Plains, next to the Westchester County Courthouse Plaza.
50th ANNIVERSARY MARCH ON WASHINGTON August 28, 2013, 5:00 p.m. Westchester County Courthouse Plaza 111 Martin Luther King Boulevard, White Plains
Come hear speakers and reflections from the civil rights movement, yesterday and today. Refreshments and conversation continue at the Thomas H. Slater Center, following the rally Organized by the Thomas H. Slater Center in collaboration with the AntiRacist Alliance, Blacks In Law Enforcement, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. – Westchester County Alumnae Chapter, NAACP of White Plains-Greenburgh, Urban League of Westchester, WESPAC, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Westchester Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Nonviolence.