What Dr. King Didn’t Say – Misremembering The March On Washington


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"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-weight:
bold”>by William P. Jones

If we do not get meaningful legislation out of this Congress, the time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington. We will march through the South; through the streets of Jackson, through the streets of Danville, through the streets of Cambridge, through the streets of Birmingham. But we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity that we have shown here today. By the force of our demands, our determination, and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in the image of God and democracy. 

King's speech was among the last of the day, and sought to reinvigorate weary travelers and marchers; however, it was "the least representative or attentive to the specific demands of the mobilization." In a strange bit of irony, it is King's speech that has come to embody the tenor and goals of the March on Washington. 

Jones thoroughly recovers the radical reality of the events leading up to the march, as well as the march itself, and exposes the important question of how such a radical event was so quickly remembered as a model of moderation. Jones does not attempt to answer this question, but his book does contain hints and guideposts for a fuller analysis. Was it because the violence and disorder that was expected never materialized? Or was it that many of the social and economic demands of the march never came to fruition? Jones's book shows that it is not only Glenn Beck and the Tea Party participants who incorrectly remember the March on Washington. It is also the critics who repeatedly forget to include the march's slogan: "for Jobs and Freedom." 

Moshe Z. Marvit is a fellow at the Century Foundation and the coauthor (with Richard D. Kahlenberg) of Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice. 

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