Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Dr. Vincent Harding: March on Washington 50th Anniversary

Yesterday the world learned of the passing of Dr. Vincent Harding, a leading and influential figure during the Civil Rights movement, and a lifelong historian and professor or religion.  He was 82 years old.

The following is a very brief excerpt of a fuller bio, followed by a 10-minute excerpt from a thoughtful and insightful discussion with Dr. Harding that appeared on Religion and Ethics Newsweekly just before last year's 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Dr. Harding's life and work will continue to be remembered.

Dr. Vincent Harding was very involved with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a friend and colleague. He also served as an elder brother and advisor to many of the members of SNCC (The Student Non-violent Coordination Committee). His social activism has deep spiritual roots in the Mennonite tradition and the Black church. Dr. Harding as been one of the chroniclers of the civil rights movement as a participant, an historian, and social observer. He and his late wife Rosemarie were senior consultants to the "Eyes on the Prize" documentary film project.

Video excerpt from Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, August 23, 2013...

“We need to remember that the anniversary of the March on Washington is not the anniversary of a speech, but the anniversary of a very important point in history to expand democracy, to deepen democracy, and to make democracy more faithful to its own sayings.” Watch more of our interview with Vincent Harding, historian, social activist, and emeritus professor of religion who worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr.


Why Today’s Black Youth March on Washington

Why Today’s Black Youth March on Washington (via Moyers & Company)

Black youth activists across the country have had a busy summer — protesting the George Zimmerman verdict, helping ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to vote, and fighting against policies like stop and frisk and Stand Your Ground. As the…


We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest: Ella’s Song

On this special day, as we remember the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, I offer this moving performance of Ella's Song by Sweet Honey in the Rock as a reminder that 'we who believe in freedom cannot rest'!  The lyrics follow, just below.

I also offer this as a tribute to the spirit of Ella Baker, and the many countless women whose consistent and persistent voices, perspectives and actions anchored the activism of the civil rights movement, and indeed our unending determination to reclaim our way in a strange land.

As you reflect throughout the day today, know that our struggle for justice continues, and that it transcends time and space.  In our continuing struggle we both honor our ancestors, and demonstrate our commitment to our generations yet unborn.  Step by step, and day by day, we stay the course...



We who believe in freedom cannot rest We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers' sons

That which touches me most is that I had a chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me

To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale

The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm

Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me
I need to be one in the number as we stand against tyranny

Struggling myself don't mean a whole lot, I've come to realize That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives

I'm a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard At times I can be quite difficult, I'll bow to no man's word

We who believe in freedom cannot rest We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes



Remembering the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington


As we remember and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, I encourage all of us to expand our understanding of the March beyond Dr. King's moving speech.

While there are numerous resources available that chronicle some aspect of the 1963 march, I recommend the following online resource, which includes a 13-page document chronicling the March from its inception through its aftermath, and explores in detail the original vision, the controversies and the compromises that produced the actual event we now know as the 1963 March on Washington - the March for Jobs and Freedom.

I especially appreciate these resources because they tell the stories, and explore the experiences, from the perspectives of those civil rights activists who were actually involved.

There are many lessons to be learned in here, many of which we - and our children - need to appreciate as we reflect on this event, and one of the critical periods in our history in this country.  The sensibilities and differences of perspective shared by the many individuals and organizations at that time are not unlike the same conversations we have today about the form and tone our continuing struggle for justice should take, and no less so given that we have an African American president.

If only we could envision the bold and bright future our ancestors, and those generations yet unborn deserve!  It's up to us to envision it, and to bring it into being.  And paraphrasing the words of our great Ancestor and historian, Dr. John Henrik Clarke... We have to start things today that will take future generations to complete.  This is the larger arc of our journey as a people, from our early African beginnings pre-Europe through the present day.  We need to start thinking in those terms.  Our bright future begins today!

Here are a few excerpts from the 13-page overview of the March on Washington.

For more than two decades, A. Philip Randolph had dreamed of a massive march on Washington for jobs and justice. As President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, President of the Negro American Labor Council, and Vice President of the AFL-CIO, he is the towering senior statesman of the Black struggle for equality and opportunity. Back in 1941, with the support of Bayard Rustin and A.J. Muste, Randolph had threatened to mobilize 100,000 Blacks to march on Washington to protest segregation in the armed forces and employment discrimination in the burgeoning war industries. To forestall Randolph's march, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 (later known as the Fair Employment Act) which outlawed racial discrimination in the national defense industry. This was the first Federal action ever taken against racially-biased employment practices.

In the closing days of 1962, as the Freedom Movement intensifies across the nation, Randolph asks Rustin to draw up plans for a large jobs-oriented protest in Washington.

After Birmingham, direct-action protests flare across the country in the Spring of '63, but the Kennedy administration still hesitates over committing its energies to passage of new civil rights legislation. In May, Dr. King begins to consider the need for national-scale action in Washington to push for an effective civil rights bill. "We are on a breakthrough," King tells his staff, "We need a mass protest... to unite in one luminous action all of the forces along the far flung front."

On June 11, 1963 — the same day as President Kennedy's address to the nation on civil rights — SCLC leaders announce plans to demonstrate in Washington for new civil rights legislation. They call for: “Massive, militant, monumental sit-ins on Congress...” and Massive acts of civil disobedience all over this nation. We will tie up public transportation by laying our bodies prostrate on runways of airports, across railroad tracks, and in bus depots.” Later that night Medgar Evers is assassinated.

King, Randolph, and Rustin join forces. Their calls for large-scale direct-action in Washington disturb the Kennedys and annoy members of Congress. On June 22nd, President Kennedy meets with civil rights leaders at the White House to get them to call off the march (which still has no date, no formal plan, no office, no staff, and no funds). Attending are: A. Phillip Randolph, Jim Farmer (CORE), Dr. King (SCLC), John Lewis (SNCC), Roy Wilkens (NAACP), and Whitney Young (Urban League). The press dub them the “Big Six” of civil rights. Though Wilkens and Young are undecided about the march, the direct- action wing of the Movement — Randolph, Farmer, King, and Lewis — refuse to cancel it.

After the meeting, JFK tells his aides: “Well, if we can't stop it, we'll run the damn thing.”

And this of course is when the Coalition Politics began to shape - or reshape as it were - this historic event.  There was so much more to the makings of what we have come to know as this historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  We should all read on to more fully appreciate what took place on that day 50 years ago today.  It should also help us in putting this past Saturday's anniversary march and event into perspective (organized by Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King, III), as well as the remaining events going on today, including President Obama's scheduled address to the nation from the Lincoln Memorial steps.



Cornel West: Obama’s Response to Trayvon Martin Case Belies Failure to Challenge “New Jim Crow”

The video below features Cornel West taking issue with President Obama's remarks last Friday about the Trayvon Martin tragedy, as well as the not-guilty verdict reached in the George Zimmerman trial. The full transcript from this interview is available at Democracy Now.

Among the issues Cornel West raises...

  • The contradiction when the President identifies with Trayvon Martin as a Black male who has been racially profiled (with tragic consequences), but offering little in terms of leadership or a federal agenda that transforms this nation's criminal justice system... one which targets and criminalizes poor, Black and Brown brothers and sisters across the country.
  • The contradiction presented when the president decries racial profiling in the case of George Zimmerman while simultaneously celebrating and praising the work of New York's police chief Ray Kelly, who is actively affirming and justifying the use of 'Stop and Frisk' as the policing policy in New York City - a policy fundamentally profiling and targeting Black and Brown communities.
  • Forecasting an impending moral test for Black leadership in this country who have rallied behind the President at every turn, yet who may run up against a brick wall while pressing the federal government (via the Department of Justice) to push a civil rights case against George Zimmerman in the wake of his targeting and killing of Trayvon Martin.  West comments on the signals offered by the President that the federal government might have limited influence in this regard, an assertion West says is so far from the truth, and further highlights a lack of commitment to these issues on the president's part.
  • Also forecasting what he fears will be a lack of strong moral courage and critique of government by the establishment Black leadership class during the upcoming activities commemorating the 50th anniversary the 1963 March on Washington, and the disgrace this will bring to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the many other leaders who challenged injustice in all of its forms and places.

I'd love to hear what you have to say about Cornel West's comments...