today in black history

July 22, 2024

The first Black Power conference is held in Newark (N.J.)in 1967, with more than 1,000 delegates from 126 cities, Bermuda and Nigeria.

A Commitment March

POSTED: August 29, 2020, 10:00 am

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(Washington, DC) – August 28 is a date burned into the psyche of Black America. It is the date of the brutal lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 by White vigilantes in Mississippi. Till’s murder solidified a civil rights movement that was still in its infancy. Almost ten years later, labor organizer and pacifist Bayard Rustin would create the blueprint for the modern civil rights movement in executing labor leader A. Phillip Randolph’s vision for a ‘March on Washington.’ On a sweltering August day in 1963 in the nation’s capital over 250,000 citizens, mostly Black but with visible White support, gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for an iconic call for jobs and justice. Memorable highlights of the 1963 March on Washington are the speeches delivered by the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the young chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) John Lewis. The 1963 march set the benchmark for all large demonstrations since, including protests against the Vietnam War and marches for gender equality.

In the wake of a series of police killings of Black people, most notably the death of George Floyd, several organizations, including the National Action Network and the National Urban League, joined forces with the Black Lives Matters movement and convened a massive demonstration yesterday in Washington DC. Tagged the ‘Get Your Knee off our Necks’ march or ‘The Commitment March,’ an estimated gathering in the 100,000 range descended on the Lincoln Memorial to demand justice and an end to racist attacks upon Black and brown people. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming presidential election, marchers wore masks and the march organizers provided hand sanitizer, masks to those with out them, temperature screening and free COVID-19 testing. The scene also reflected a commitment to adhere to medical advice and science in contrast to the misinformation spewed by the current president.

Evoking memories of the 1963 March on Washington, yesterday’s speakers harkened back to the words of the speakers at the original march and encouraged those gathered to fulfill the legacy of those who spoke on that now historic day. There was no clearer connection than the appearance by Martin Luther King III, son of the late civil rights icon, and his daughter and Dr. King’s only granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King. The young King spoke eloquently of her grandfather, who she only knows through the historical accounts of his life and what she has learned from her father, and declared that her generation would be the one to fulfill Dr. King’s dream. It was a poignant moment as she spoke from the very spot where her grandfather delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech 57 years ago. Martin Luther King, III challenged the crowd to not deify his father, insisting that would not be Dr. King’s wish. Instead, the son of Dr. King told the crowd that it was the responsibility of each individual assembled to lead and be the change that his father envisioned for America.

Other speakers for the day were family members of victims of police violence, including Bridgett Floyd, the sister of George Floyd, and Philonise Floyd, the brother of Floyd who was overcome with emotion, and Letetra Widman, the sister of Jacob Blake and his father, Jacob Blake Sr. Ms. Widman echoed the sentiment of many families when she declared “I don’t want pity, I want change!” Rev. Jamal Bryant delivered stirring remarks invoking the Biblical call for justice and the struggle between good and evil. Also delivering remarks were National Urban League CEO Marc Morial, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. Capping the many speakers in a program that ran over by an hour, was Rev. Al Sharpton, the founder and president of the National Action Network. Rev. Sharpton, in his now accustomed role, made the call for justice as he stepped to the podium. Sharpton reminded the crowd of what was occurring in 1963 when the civil rights movement made its call for justice on August 28 of that year. Rev. Sharpton spoke of the unrest in Birmingham Alabama and the murder of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers in Mississippi, and brought those incidents into the current stream of today’s demand for an end to police brutality in America. What was evident on this day, is that there is no singular leader of this moment, and that was stressed throughout the day, but a unified collective of people from all races and ethnicities, and gender identities who are moving as one across the nation in calling for an end to injustice in America.

What was striking about the scene yesterday was the sea of humanity in Washington DC. The march was likely the most representative picture of America that has gathered for a protest. Wherever one turned, you could find the old, young, Black, Latino, Asian and American Indian, immigrant and LGBQT. Labor unions were present in full force, as were Black Greek-letter sororities and fraternities, and historically Black college students and alumni. The number of college students was inspiring, as was the messages many of them were carrying on placards – VOTE! If there was any doubt about the level of motivation among young people and their intent, it was clear from yesterday’s event that they possess a mission-like zeal to make their voices heard on November 3rd. For all the talk about Donald Trump’s devoted base, his presidency has mobilized an oppositional force heretofore unseen in America.

With this march now catalogued in history, what will be closely watched is how the energy of the day translates into continuing advocacy in local communities across the country and voter turnout on Election Day.

Photo Credit: Jordan Fields for

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