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Coston Davis: Has our nation realized Dr. King’s dream?

The March on Washington that occurred 50 years ago Wednesday was planned by the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership, an umbrella organization created in June 1963.

This coalition, whose leaders became known as the "Big Six," included: A. Phillip Randolph, who was chosen as the titular head of the march; James Farmer, president of the Congress of Racial Equality; John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Martin Luther King, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Roy Wilkins, president of the NAACP; and Whitney Young, president of the National Urban League.

The march was not universally supported among civil rights activists.

Some, including activist Bayard Rustin, who assembled 4,000 volunteer marshals from New York, were concerned it might turn violent, undermining pending legislation and damaging the international image of the movement.

The march was condemned by Malcolm X, estranged spokesperson for the Nation of Islam, who termed it the "farce on Washington."

March organizers disagreed over its purpose. The NAACP and Urban League saw it as a gesture of support for a civil rights bill that had been introduced by the Kennedy administration.

Randolph, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference saw it as a way of raising both civil rights and economic issues to national attention beyond the Kennedy bill.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Congress of Racial Equality saw it as a way of challenging and condemning the Kennedy administration's inaction and lack of support for civil rights for African-Americans.

Despite their disagreements, organizers set these goals, among others, for the march:

n Passage of meaningful civil rights legislation

n Immediate elimination of school segregation

n A public works program — including job training — for the unemployed

n A federal law prohibiting discrimination in public or private hiring

n A nationwide $2-an-hour minimum wage

The march did help accomplish several of these goals. But the need to keep fighting for civil rights remains.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is being strategically dismantled and parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are being dissected.  

The recent Supreme Court decision means that a host of state and local laws that have not received Justice Department approval or that have not yet been submitted will be able to take effect. Prominent among those are voter identification laws in Alabama and Mississippi.

Thomas Jefferson said, "All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases

to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression."

If King were alive today, he would look at the election of Barack Obama as a monumental event in America's history.

Alternatively, his heart would be saddened by unemployment, education, racial disparities and black-on-black crime.

As we move forward from 1963 to 2013, where do we stand not just as African Americans but as the United States of America?

History was made in 2008 and 2012 with the election and reelection of the first African-American president elected.

A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.

We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go to see the promised land.

Davis is director of Leadership, Mentoring and Judicial Affairs at West Virginia State University and former president of the West Virginia NAACP.


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