March on Washington

How Much Do You Know About the Black Panthers?

Screenshot via 'The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution' trailer/YouTube

Screenshot via 'The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution' trailer/YouTube


We learned about sit-ins, bus boycotts, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. But when it came to the Black Panthers, I was taught virtually nothing. I can vaguely recall a high school teacher mentioning Huey Newton, and showing photos of John Carlos and Tommie Smith giving the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics. That’s it.

We didn’t hear about the origins of the Black Panthers, or their active improvement of local communities. We didn’t hear about the personalities that created both important exposure and also infighting. We didn’t hear the story of the federal government’s fear of the Panthers or its insidious undercover missions, whose implementation prompted senseless killing and violent responses.

What we didn’t hear, in short, is everything The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution covers.

Birmingham Church Bombing Recalled with Donation, Medal

They were among the youngest martyrs of the civil rights movement, four young black girls — three 14-year-olds and one 11-year-old — whose deaths in a church basement horrified a nation already torn apart by segregation.

This week, 50 years after the Ku Klux Klan bombing at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., shook hopes for a colorblind country, the four girls are getting their due.

Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on Tuesday (Sept. 10), a day after a piece of shattered stained glass from the church was donated to the Smithsonian.

50 Years from Now — Infographic Shows How Far We Have Yet to Go on Racial Equality

"Dream by the Numbers" infographic details racial inequality that exists in mult

"Dream by the Numbers" infographic details racial inequality that exists in multiple forms today. Graphic by PRRI.

Yesterday’s “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony in Washington, D.C., honored the nation's substantial advances in racial equality in the fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now-iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

But events this year — from the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act to the House eliminating funding for food stamps to the Trayvon Martin trial — are posing serious challenges to our national progress towards true equality for all.

An infographic from the Public Religion Research Institute, "The Dream by the Numbers," highlights systemic inequalities that still work against communities of color today. The statistics are grim: black communities are unemployed at nearly double the rate of white communities. Fewer than 20 percent of black youth will receive a college or graduate degree. Twice as many blacks lack health insurance as whites. And nearly 70 percent of blacks surveyed mentioned “lack of opportunities for young people” as a top concern for their community.

'I Have A Complaint' — No — 'I Have a Dream'

Martin Luther King, Jr., photo: public domain. Illustration by Sandi Villarreal

Martin Luther King, Jr., photo: public domain. Illustration by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of a day that changed America, changed the world, and changed my life forever. I was fourteen years old on Aug. 28, 1963, in my very white neighborhood, school, church, and world. But I was watching. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., became a founding father of this nation on that day, so clearly articulating how this union could become more perfect.

He didn’t say, “I have a complaint.” Instead, he proclaimed (and a proclamation it was in the prophetic biblical tradition), “I have a dream.” There was much to complain about for black Americans, and there is much to complain about today for many in this nation. But King taught us that day our complaints or critiques, or even our dissent will never be the foundation of social movements that change the world — but dreams always will. Just saying what is wrong will never be enough the change the world. You have to lift up a vision of what is right.

The dream was more than the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which both followed in the years after the history-changing 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It finally was about King’s vision for “the beloved community,” drawn right from the heart of his Christian faith and a spiritual foundation for the ancient idea of the common good, which we today need so deeply to restore.

Crowds Recall the Faith that Animated MLK’s Unfinished Dream

RNS photo by Lauren Markoe

The interfaith service at Washington’s Shiloh Baptist Church. RNS photo by Lauren Markoe

WASHINGTON — Fifty years to the day after Martin Luther King, Jr., knocked on the nation’s conscience with his dream, religious leaders gathered in a historic church to remind the nation that he was fueled by faith.

Later, in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial where King thundered about America’s unmet promises, King’s children joined the likes of President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey to rekindle what Obama called a “coalition of conscience.”

At Shiloh Baptist Church, where King preached three years before his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh clergy summoned King’s prophetic spirit to help reignite the religious fires of the civil rights movement.

King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice A. King, said at the service that her father was a freedom fighter and a civil rights leader, but his essence was something else.

“He was a pastor,” said King, who was 5 when her father electrified the nation in front of the Lincoln Memorial. “He was a prophet. He was a faith leader.”

'Because They Marched:' Obama's Remarks on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama speaks to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of President Barack Obama's speech from the Lincoln Memorial on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

We rightly and best remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory that day, how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions; how he offered a salvation path for oppressed and oppressors alike.  His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time.

But we would do well to recall that day itself also belonged to those ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books, never got on TV.  Many had gone to segregated schools and sat at segregated lunch counters.  They lived in towns where they couldn’t vote and cities where their votes didn’t matter.  They were couples in love who couldn’t marry, soldiers who fought for freedom abroad that they found denied to them at home.  They had seen loved ones beaten, and children fire-hosed, and they had every reason to lash out in anger, or resign themselves to a bitter fate.

Inspiration Is Nice, But We Need Action

By Yoichi R. Okamoto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

President Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. By Yoichi R. Okamoto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve spent the last few days recalling the anniversary of the March on Washington and listening again to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., talk so powerfully about his dream of a land that is full of love and free of hatred. Stirring words. Inspiring words. Spirit-infused words. We’re also reminded that they’re only words until they produce action. 

It’s one thing to be inspired when we hear something, another thing to respond to the inspiration and to do something.

Powerful words play a big role in our lives, challenging us and leading us. God is love. Love one another. Be compassionate. Love your enemies. Whatsoever you do to the least. Your brother‘s keeper. An instrument of your peace. Give to all. The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Blessed are the poor. All men are created equal. The common good. Government of, by and for the people. I have a dream. Be the change. Make justice a reality for all God‘s children.

Those and so many other words inspire us to raise our lives and our world to new heights. But they remain words until we commit ourselves to live them. Then they acquire real power.

Celebrations of ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech Obscure Its Critique

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Rev. Fred Shuttleworth; Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Phot

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Rev. Fred Shuttleworth; Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Photo courtesy RNS.

It may be the most famous speech of the 20th century.

Millions of American schoolchildren who never experienced Jim Crow or whites-only water fountains know the phrase “I have a dream.”

And many American adults can recite from memory certain phrases: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s use of the prophet Amos’ vision of justice rolling down “like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” or the line about children being judged not by “the color of their skin but the content of their character.”

To many in this country, “I have a dream” has a place of honor next to the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address. It celebrates the lofty ideals of freedom.

But scholars say it would be a mistake to celebrate the speech without also acknowledging its profound critique of American values.


Memories of the March

Rep. John Lewis. Photo courtesy RNS/the Office of Rep. John Lewis.

Rep. John Lewis. Photo courtesy RNS/the Office of Rep. John Lewis.

Don Cash had graduated from high school in June 1963 and decided on the spur of the moment to join the March on Washington when he finished his work shift at a nearby warehouse. The Baptist layman is the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union’s Minority Coalition and a board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP. 

“I think we got a long ways to go but I do think that there’s been a lot of changes. I don’t think you’ll ever see what Martin Luther King dreamed in reality, in total. I think we’ll always have to strive for perfection. The dream that he had is a perfect world and I think that in order to be perfect, you have to continue to work at it.”