By Kim West
Fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his seminal “I Have a Dream” speech, Americans have moved beyond the volatile civil rights era to a time when minorities hold some of the top posts in the federal government.
Much has changed from a time when people could be arrested simply for drinking out of a water fountain. But today’s civil rights leaders say King’s vision for a country where people are not judged “by the color of the their skin but by the content of their character” has not been fully realized.
On Saturday, thousands converged on the National Mall in Washington D.C. to commemorate today’s 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
The march five decades ago drew more than 200,000 in a peaceful civil rights protest that King described in his speech “as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”
“It was a very momentous occasion, and it was a good way to mark the 50th anniversary,” said Wilbert Woodruff, president of the Limestone NAACP. “From the national to local NAACP leadership, we viewed it as a way to address many topics, including the health care bill and the way our state governments are viewing and implementing it.”
He said another pressing topic is the Supreme Court decision earlier this year to repeal portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The court’s decision removed pre-clearances that required certain states to get permission from the Justice Department before changing voter registration procedures.
“It basically gutted the act as it was on the books, and it disenfranchised so many people,” Woodruff said. “Early voting dates have been taken out, and lot of people are disenfranchised because they don’t have government-issue voter IDs … the law is on the books now but we would like to work to get the decision repealed. Let’s look at voters’ rights and try and be sensible about it.”
He said about 60 people traveled with the Alabama delegation to D.C., including Dr. Elaine Harrington and Limestone NAACP member James Steele. He said both attended the original 1963 march.
“The importance of the first march was that it signified the first time blacks had actually taken a national stand in unity to voice our opinion as a race as to the plight of African-Americans in this country,” said Woodruff. “I gained a lot of my civil liberties because people marched on Washington back in 1963. Those that were returning were just overjoyed at the opportunity to go back and be with … the thousands that were there to celebrate, commemorate and reiterate that we have advanced somewhat, but there is so much work left to be done.”
Woodruff said that by the centennial celebration of King’s address, he envisions a country without “racism, bigotry and hatred.”
“I hope 100 years from now we’ll be past the roles of race,” he said. “Then the focus can be on strategizing on what can be done together to improve the workability of our country.”