Two very different marches on Washington

A Liberal Dose


I want to start this week by telling you that all my columns from the last two years are now collected in a book, “A Liberal Dose: Communiqués from the Holler.” If you like what I have to say, or know someone who would, go online and buy a copy. If you despise what I have to say, buy a copy and burn it - heck, get together with friends and have a bonfire, long as you pay for ‘em first. Now, on with the column.

“My friends, let us not forget we are engaged in a serious social revolution.”

These words were spoken in Washington 60 years ago last Monday by civil rights leader John Lewis (the same man whose street Paul Sherrell tried to have renamed for Donald Trump). Yes, this was the same march where MLK gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, but he was not the only one there. In addition to the quarter-of-a-million marchers, two-thirds of whom were Black, there were the two African- American leaders who organized the march, which was the pinnacle of their work over the previous 20-plus years: A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. Know who else played a major role? A couple of white guys: Walter Reuther, president of United Auto Workers, and Stanley Aronowitz, a union organizer for Amalgamated Clothing Workers (another of their organizers had been arrested and thrown out of Sparta in the early 1940s for an early attempt to organize the shirt factory).

Those guys (and others) were involved because what we normally just refer to as the March on Washington (Aug. 28, 1963) was officially called “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” It was about economics and poverty as well as civil rights. Most of their demands centered on basic rights for African-Americans, but they were also calling for a minimum wage increase and job training for the unemployed. That part gets left out, but labor action and civil rights have often gone together. Remember, MLK was assassinated in Memphis, in 1968, while there to support a sanitation workers’ strike.

Civil rights for minorities and economic relief for poor people in general. A crowd that may have been majority-Black but which had a substantial number of white allies (up to a third, or around 80,000+). All involved in an action that was not only peaceful but it was also carried out with an enormous amount of dignity, solemnity, and spirituality. An action, and a movement, that sought SOCIAL revolution - a change in society.

Contrast that with what Trump and his legion of co-conspirators are now on their way to trial for, a conspiracy with a march (or, more accurately, an assault) on Washington at its center. A horde of furious rioters, screaming and spouting obscenities and physically attacking police. Destruction and foul desecration of the capitol, some smearing feces on the walls. And people dying. All of it egged on by a man who is, in almost every way, the polar opposite of Martin Luther King, Jr. -except when it comes to the ability to inspire some people to action by oratory. And what were they calling for? Social DEVOLUTION, resurrecting a time and a social order that was NEVER great for people in the minority. Like the 1963 marchers, they did not get what they wished for that day - but they may have pulled the country closer to it.

Look where we are, a week past the 60-year anniversary of that memorable march. A Florida racist with swastikas on his guns shoots up a Dollar General in a Black neighborhood, stating it was because he wanted to kill Black people. Red state legislators and governors, including our own, pushing rules that restrict the teaching of accurate history where racism is concerned, and in Florida touting the “economic benefits” of slavery.

We must all remember, in King’s words, “the fierce urgency of now.”

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.     


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