Sunday, August 25, 2013

Merlie Evers could have used some help during the past 50 years

Merlie Evers in 2013 at the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington

What would have happened if these leaders hadn't been assassinated?
Medgar Evers, assassinated in 1963
Martin Luther King, Jr., assassinated 1968 and Malcolm X, assassinated in 1965
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, both assassinated in 1968

KPBS News anchor Gwen Ifill talks about the March on Washington

Gwen's Take: Remembering And Reimagining August 28, 1963
Gwen Ifill
August 23, 2013

Two years ago, I wrote this piece about looking back and looking forward. Now, because we love our landmarks, the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington has allowed us to focus once again on a pivotal national event that did so much to shape the way we view ourselves and our nation.

Names have been lost in the popular retelling. Bayard Rustin was the organizer who somehow figured out a way to get a quarter of a million people to descend on the capital for a march that made some pretty radical demands. Walter Reuther and A. Philip Randolph were the labor organizers whose efforts ensured that the crowd was so racially diverse. Anna Arnold Hedgeman was the only woman on the organizing committee, and scolded the civil rights leaders who decided the day's speakers would all be male. She lost that fight.

I'm embarrassed to say I've learned, or re-learned, a lot of this recently as I was preparing for the series of conversations we've been having on the PBS NewsHour and Washington Week leading up to the anniversary. It puts nearly everything we are watching unfold in Washington now in context -- from economic stress to power politics to personal security. And it helps us to look forward, too.

My daily commute takes me south along the Potomac River and past the neoclassical majesty of the Lincoln Memorial, a beautiful drive I try not to take for granted. But I had been living and working in the nation's capital for more than two decades before I retraced the steps I had taken as a schoolchild, up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

It was steeper than I remembered. (It always is.) But when I reached the broad landing at the top, I glanced down, and to my surprise, discovered something there I had never noticed before -- a shiny disc embedded in the floor that marked the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what came to be known as the "I Have A Dream" speech...

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