I know several people who were at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom August 28, 1963. I’ve held buttons in my hand that were exchanged on the Mall that day, passed from one person to another documenting how people came from all over the nation to gather and advocate for justice. And I know that so many of the rights I enjoy today were earned through the blood, sweat and tears of those regular folk and the brave people who organized their activism. A lot of people focus on the speeches made 47 years ago on the Mall, but I have always been inspired by the pictures of the crowd that capture the faces of the people who made the movement possible.
I watched some of the coverage of Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally this past weekend and I heard Dr. Alveda King speak. Dr. Alveda King is the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and an anti-choice activist with Priests for Life. She referred to the speech her uncle made that day, specifically to his statement about America giving black people a “bad check.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:
“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.'”
Forty-seven years later to the day, King’s niece Alveda King said, “When will we know that the check Uncle Martin spoke of is good? We will know when prayer is once again welcome in the public squares of America and in our schools.”
Well, the Mall in Washington DC is the very definition of the public square and organizers of the Beck rally managed to fit some public prayer in without interference.
So, have we overcome?
Has that check finally been paid in full?
I think not.
The 1961 Freedom Rides and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom were about expanding, protecting and guaranteeing access to the all of the rights afforded to all persons through the Constitution of the United States of America.
Dr. Alveda King has spent much of the summer of 2010 trying to re-write that history. In her world, the womb is a battlefield on which she is prepared to wage war on the reproductive rights of black women.
Dr. Alveda King’s “Freedom Rides” offer a tour of the equality she’d like to see denied, specifically the denial of the Constitutionally guaranteed right to reproductive freedom she is now working overtime to restrict, revise and remove.
The Freedom Rides of 1961 tested the system to ensure access, open doors and guarantee safety.
Dr. Alveda King’s Freedom Rides trampled on that legacy by demanding the denial of access to the full range of reproductive health care, the closing of doors and a return to unsafe conditions that would put women at risk.
In 1963 people gathered at the Mall in Washington DC to push for legislation that would protect black voters who faced violence at the polls, protect workers who faced unsafe work conditions and unfair wages and protect the rights of all Americans to live lives free of the fear of violence and the ramifications of discrimination.
Let’s keep it real – this past weekend the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took the stage and tried to sell this nation a payday loan as the payment solution on that check her uncle spoke of 47 years ago.
If we take her up on that payday loan we’ll end up in debt and no further down the road to true equality and social justice.
The movement was never about the stage on which people stood or the monument they stood in front of.
The movement was and is about protecting the rights of regular folk and how the denial of those rights threatens all of our freedom.