The ‘Dream,’ 50 years later

Published 10:19 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fifty years ago today, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and said, “I have a dream.”

Today, folks from across the nation will converge on the capital to commemorate half a century since that turning point in the Civil Rights movement. But many say despite the progress that has been made, there still is a lot of work to be done to achieve true racial equality.

President John F. Kennedy perhaps said it best. Quoted in Associated Press coverage of the march ran by the Suffolk News-Herald’s afternoon edition on Aug. 29, 1963, the president told King, “We have a long way yet to travel.”

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The same article said the gathering of about 200,000 protestors had been historic, massive, orderly and moving.

“Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual,” the article quoted King quoted as saying.

Many participants in the original march literally traveled a long way just to get to the march. An Associated Press story from the time said special trains carrying thousands of demonstrators from throughout the country arrived in Washington for the march, despite a looming railroad strike.

The News-Herald’s “TV Key” on Aug. 28, 1963, noted the three networks would interrupt their regular programming throughout the day to cover the demonstrations.

Suffolk NAACP president Costellar Ledbetter said she did not participate in the March on Washington, though she was in other demonstrations.

Like the leaders of the time, she agreed there is still a long way to go to achieve equality.

“We have made strides, but not nearly enough,” she said. “In my thinking, Martin Luther King’s dream has not been realized to its full potential.”

She noted that unemployment is higher for blacks, and various laws many blacks believe are intended to suppress their vote have passed in several states, including Virginia. The U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 but allowed for a new formula to be drawn determining which states must receive “pre-clearance” on any voting changes.

“Basically what it’s all about is suppression of the black vote,” she said.

Ledbetter also said many of the things protestors marched for in 1963 are still problems today.

“We need jobs,” she said. “We need to get this country back to work. If we had jobs that were paying fair wages, the economy will grow.”

Ledbetter said she hopes the recognition of the 50th anniversary of the march will help young people realize what others went through in the struggle for civil rights.

“Young people today, they don’t realize the struggles even some of their parents went through,” she said.