By Morgan Dyer
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is upon us again and it’s a day to stop and reflect on our shared history as a country so that we can move collectively towards the future. This day celebrates the birthday of Dr. King, one of the most prominent activist and organizers of the Big Six who led the historic March on Washington for jobs and freedom that took place on August 28th, 1963.
Other organizers of the march included James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality, John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Roy Wilson of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Whitney Young Jr. of the National Urban League and Dr. King himself, representing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Together the activists demanded a comprehensive civil rights bill that would end public segregation, grant people of color the right to vote, and desegregate public schools as well as a federal program to train and place unemployed workers and a Federal Fair Employment Practices Act to protect against employment discrimination. More than 200,000 demonstrators turned up to march and together they demanded the Kennedy administration take them seriously.
After the march, King and other organizers met with President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to discuss effective civil rights legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965 reflect their demands. While these accomplishments represent serious milestones, they should not be read as the final chapter in our story. Although you, dear reader, may or may not stand at the intersection of race and working class, as did Dr. King, Black History is American History and all triumph over oppression is mutual triumph.
The way I see it, we can respect our differences while acknowledging our mutual interest in the freedom of all of us, and we must – if we want to build a future that can hold us all. As Eugene V. Debs, American Socialist and Trade Unionist once stated to a court upon violating the Sedition Act;
“Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”