UCC commemorates March on Washington 60th anniversary with call for continued action

United Church of Christ members, clergy and national staff joined the crowd of thousands in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Aug. 26 for the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. The event was both a commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech — and a call for continued action. 

March attendees gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to hear from a long list of speakers sharing a similar message: that America is facing a wave of attacks on civil rights and on democracy. 

“60 years ago, a dream was shared of a future in which all Americans could have equal rights and access to jobs and freedom,” said the Rev. Michael Neuroth, director of the UCC’s D.C. office, after his attendance at the march. “On Saturday, we continued that dream by witnessing again to those values still yet unrealized — those values of freedom, equality and justice for all,”

The Rev. Ellen Jennings, pastor of Cleveland Park UCC in Washington, D.C., holds a sign in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.

“I’m grateful for the UCC’s participation in the 60th anniversary actions because our movements need watershed moments like these to catalyze change, to empower people to get involved in new ways and to place in front of us our deepest needs and our wildest dreams,” said Sharon Fennema, curator for the UCC’s Join the Movement toward Racial Justice campaign. “They are sacred moments that can become spirited movements if we invest in continuing the struggle.”

A more inclusive march

The UCC has long partnered with National Action Network, the Drum Major Institute and other organizers to commemorate and honor the anniversary of the original march each year. UCC advocates who joined this year noted a more inclusive program from past anniversaries. 

“I arrived at the Lincoln Memorial early and was delighted by the fabulous diversity of speakers, many of whom didn’t have a place on the stage at the first March on Washington: gay men, women of all ages and sexual orientations, and transgender people,” said the Rev. Ellen Jennings, pastor at the local Cleveland Park Congregational UCC. “In this 2023 moment of national crisis, it’s this progress and these voices that give me hope. For anytime the voices of those who used to be silenced are given sound, the bells of freedom and justice ring.”

UCC members, clergy and national staff gather for prayer as part of the commemoration of the March on Washington.

Neuroth felt similarly moved.

“Dr. King’s intersectional dream was articulated anew on Saturday as speakers, as well as the slogans and signs of marchers, all pointed to the need for people of faith and conscience to get into ‘good trouble,’ as the late Rep. John Lewis called such efforts,” he said. “As many of the speakers noted, we must see the March — and our ongoing work — not as a ‘commemoration’ looking to the past, but rather as a ‘continuation’ focused on the future and the actions needed to make Dr. King’s Dream a reality.”

Taking action

Speakers spoke to a range of issues including fighting for racial justice, an end to gun violence, combating antisemitism, addressing poverty and more. Voting rights and protecting democracy was a central focus, with multiple speakers referencing the uptick in voter suppression bills across the country. 

Passing the Freedom to Vote Act was noted as one important step in the fight for voting rights. Hundreds of UCC advocates have already sent messages to their legislators in support of the proposed bill

“Today, there is an urgent need to continue to work to end racial inequality, protect voting rights and ensure basic civil and human rights in the face of attempts by some in Congress to legislate such rights away,” Neuroth said. “These values are not only part of King’s dream, but also are reflected in our work and vision as the United Church of Christ called to ‘Build a Just World for All.’”

Thousands gather for the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

“This anniversary gives us the opportunity to take stock of where we are and where we continue to need to go if we are going to move toward racial justice,” said Fennema. “White supremacy, colonialism and heteropatriarchy would like nothing more than for us to think we’ve accomplished all we need to. We must remain diligent in our stewardship of the hard fought advancements toward racial justice of our forebears and persevere in our creation of new freedoms, new justice, new joys.”

‘The call is still the same’

Two days after the march, civil rights group Repairers of the Breach continued to commemorate the anniversary of the march with a live streamed event: “She Speaks.” The list of speakers included women leaders who “have been at the forefront of our nation’s social justice movements fighting for truth, equality and love,” according to the organization.

UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson joined the live stream with a message to viewers on the continued call to be advocates of justice.

“We gather together today to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, D.C., an event that was inspired by the atrocities of the day as African Americans and people of African descent in these United States struggled for their civil rights,” she said. “Sixty years later, the call is still the same. It is clear and strong: for us to be advocates of justice for all.”

UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson speaks during a “She Speaks” online event that was part of the March on Washington anniversary.

Thompson continued that ongoing injustices and their many intersections are “too many to innumerate.”

“We have work to do,” she said. “We are the voices calling out in the wilderness for this season of change we will usher in. There is nothing too hard for our God. We have seen the yield of the seeds planted 60 years ago; we will continue the march started on August 28, 1963, until all are free and flourishing and living with dignity.

“May it be so.”

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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