On the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
Written by Rev. Geoffrey Black, Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess, Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo & Rev. James Moos
The United Church of Christ has a longstanding commitment to the work of civil rights and equality for all people. We mark the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with a renewed faith commitment to upholding the fundamental dignity of every person. Our journey has brought us a long way in the struggle for racial equality; however, we hear the call of our Still Speaking God to address the still troubling discrepancies between our society’s highest ideals and the realities of our laws and practices of our common life. The UCC core values of Extravagant Welcome, Continuing Testament, and Changing Lives are a clarion call for justice, healing and reconciliation in ongoing struggle to end all forms of racism and inequality.
The 1963 March on Washington was a massive movement calling for meaningful civil rights legislation, an end to racial segregation in public schools and unfair employment practices; safety from police brutality; and ensuring that every citizen’s right to vote is protected. It was more than symbolism – it spurred passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These landmark civil rights bills provided the basis for moving toward greater racial justice and equity over the years, and they continue to remain pivotal to our democratic principles. The Anniversary March will reflect the ever-expanding coalition of faith and community advocates who recognize that issues of justice and equality span a great diversity of communities – immigration, human and civil rights, women, LGBTQ, labor equity.
It is striking that, 50 years later, so many of these issues are at the heart of public dialogue around the country. Coming just weeks after the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down key sections of the Voting Rights Act and in the wake of the verdict issued in the trial of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, the occasion of the 50th Anniversary March on Washington offers far more than an opportunity to reflect on the past. The Gospel compels us to have honest, soul-searching, and transformative conversations about racism and injustice in this day and time. We must recommit ourselves to work diligently for racial justice in our communities and in our churches.
Guided by the Holy Scriptures on which we ground our faith, former leaders of the United Church of Christ boldly proclaimed these words:
“Racism, in all its overt and covert forms, is an affront to the very foundations of our faith. God created all humanity in the divine image, called us into being, and into loving relationship with all of God’s children. This fundamental conviction compels us to affirm our oneness and equality with all of humanity. It further compels us to identify, unmask, and oppose any power which seeks to divide and separate us. As the Body of Christ we accept the mission which Jesus initiated of breaking down the dividing walls of hostility.” (UCC Pastoral Letter on Contemporary Racism and the Role of the Church)
Even as we have made great strides in breaking down the dividing walls of hostility built upon racism and a distorted view of humanity and human relationships, it is clear that much remains to be done. We must acknowledge that the challenge of confronting racism persists today, in old and new forms. We must rededicate ourselves to faithfully advocating for legislation that restores the Voting Rights Act, ends racial profiling, addresses gun violence, and brings impartiality and fairness to our criminal justice system. Together we endeavor to build stronger communities united by love and hope, not fear and intimidation.
On the 50th Anniversary of the powerful witness of thousands, we harken back to the words of a great prophet of our time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
Let us not faint or grow weary in making real the vision of the Beloved Community.
Events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington will take place throughout the country. Learn more at http://bit.ly/50thmarch.