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Lessons from the March on Washington on the Value of the Covenant (Advisory)
However, it is often forgotten that the “Big Six” were in fact “Top Ten”, as the group had expanded in the weeks leading up to the march to include four white men. Three of them – Mathew H. Ahmann, Reverend Eugene Carson Blake and Rabbi Joachim Prinz – were prominent religious leaders. The fourth, Walter Reuther, was a union leader.
Although, unfortunately, no woman was included in the “Top Ten” or had the opportunity to address the crowd through long speeches like the men did, Daisy Bates, President from the Arkansas NAACP, spoke briefly and several other women made notable musical contributions. Joan Baez led the protesters in a catchy rendition of “We Shall Overcome”. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson not only sang, but also played a central role in the proceedings, calling out a hesitant king, “Tell them about the dream, Martin,” emboldening him to abandon his prepared speech and launch into a catchy improvisation.
It wasn’t just those who were on stage that day who understood the impact of the alliance. The crowds also reflected the coming together of people of different races, genders, religions and backgrounds to support the cause of justice, freedom and employment for all. It is estimated that about 20 to 25% of the 250,000 walkers were white. In a nation where whites still made up over 88% of the population, it was a small start, but the fact that the crowd was, undeniably, visibly diverse sent a powerful message: the dream King described was for everything. the world.

The Civil Rights Alliance was largely based on faith. In local churches, synagogues and mosques, people came to a common understanding of suffering and salvation and heard the call of some religious leaders to join in the struggle for justice.

Faith, in its broadest sense, is still a common denominator among those who respond to this call; even Americans who do not identify with any particular belief are often driven to action by the deep-rooted belief that we are all bound by our common humanity.

Today, as we continue the long struggle for racial equality in an increasingly polarized society, we must not forget that we have a proud tradition of alliance to draw on. By openly celebrating allies of the past, we inspire young people to follow their example, we recognize the value of collaboration, and we remind ourselves to cherish allies of the present.

And there are more and more to cherish. Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, for example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against racism and police brutality across the United States have gathered a large number of diverse supporters. Research by Professor Dana R. Fisher and her team at the University of Maryland shows that in BLM marches held in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC last June, 54% of participants were white.

Such figures give us reason to hope for a better future; if every American can see themselves reflected in the equality movement, our ranks will surely continue to grow. But we should not take anyone’s continued support for granted. In these difficult times, we must redouble our efforts to build bridges between communities, not ditches. From school curricula to political documents, we must prioritize measures designed to help citizens of all racial, ethnic, political and economic groups find common ground. So many things unite us. We all have fears. We all have dreams. We all love our children and our country and want to see them both flourish.

Martin Luther King, Jr. made an unforgettable contribution to the March on Washington and the political successes that came with it, but he was also part of not only the “Big Six” but also the diverse “Top Ten”. Today, the fight for racial equality is once again waged by a loose coalition of militant groups and their allies. The fight is now taking place online as well as on the streets and in the homes of Congress. We don’t need to wait for a single prophetic voice to emerge. Regardless of our skin color, gender or beliefs, if each of us articulates our personal vision of justice, we will create a combined chorus that cannot be ignored. Our collective call for change will be more powerful than six, 10 or even 250,000 votes.

Because what’s more important than any number is the one thing that we can never quantify, but that matters more than anything else: love.

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