“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” – Amos 5:24
Yesterday commemorated the 59th anniversary of the March of Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The event brought together the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Together, these organizations along with countless neighborhood leaders, pastors, and community organizers led over 200,000 people to pour into the nation’s capital. Many feared that such a group demanding justice would become violent. The military stationed thousands of troops throughout the area. However, the marchers gathered and sang peacefully all the way to the Lincoln Memorial and at the end of the day there wasn’t a single arrest.
From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson sang “How I Got Over.” The song begins:
How I got over? (How I got over)
How I made it over? (How I got over)
You know my soul look back and wonder
How I made it over? (Oh yes)
Ooh, soon as I can see Jesus (oh yes)
Man that died for me (oh yes)
Man that bled and suffered
Hung on Calvary (oh yes)
And I wanna thank him for how he brought me (oh yes)
And I wanna thank God for how he taught me (oh yes)
Oh, thank my God how he kept me (oh yes)
I’m gonna thank him ’cause He never left me (oh yes)
And I wanna thank Him for ol’ time religion (oh yes)
I wanna thank God for giving me a vision (oh yes)
After Mahalia Jackson sang, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rose up to speak. As he came to the end of his speech, Mahalia Jackson called out to him saying, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” Mahalia Jackson had heard him talk about his dream in another speech earlier that summer.
The Rev. King heeded her call and spoke of his dream. He closed his speech saying:
“When we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
As I watched this short recap video of that day, I couldn’t help but think of a more recent march in Washington D.C. How will this contemporary march be remembered in the decades ahead? And, more directly for us, how will the role of Christians in relationship to that day be remembered? Friends our actions today become a witness that will echo into the future.
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: Archival Footage from SALT Project on Vimeo.