by Geoff Larcom, Published August 27, 2013
YPSILANTI – At 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time Wednesday, August 28, bells will ring around the nation and world to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s seminal "I Have a Dream" speech.
Eastern Michigan University will take part in the commemoration, with a remembrance to take place Wednesday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Gardens, near Welch Hall, on the south side of campus off Cross Street.
Students, faculty and staff and the public are invited to take part in the event, to occur adjacent to the bust of Dr. King in the garden. The tentative plan for the event is as follows:
The events at Eastern echo those in Washington D.C. where there will be a morning re-dedication program at the King Memorial, and ringing of bells at the Lincoln Memorial at 3 p.m., the time King began his " I Have a Dream" address 50 years ago.
WEMU, Eastern Michigan University's public radio station, will run special coverage of the 50th anniversary from noon to 4 p.m., including live coverage of President Obama's speech starting at 3 p.m.
Woods, a professor in the department of Africology and African American Studies at Eastern Michigan, says the 50th anniversary events offer a time to reflect on where we were at that time, and where the nation stands now.
"One of the points Dr. King stressed in his 1963 oration was profound disappointment that our nation had not fulfilled the promises implied in the Emancipation Proclamation and set out in Reconstruction era amendments and legislation," Woods says. "In looking at where the Negro was a century after the Proclamation, Dr. King said, 'The Negro still is not free.' King and the Modern Civil Rights Movement challenged us on both the persistence of the notion of white supremacy and the practices of institutionalized racial discrimination. The Movement was an essential leap forward in calling for progress in those areas."
Now, 50 years later, Woods sees much progress. But he also notes that the structural disparities and racial attitudes of the past, while less, still linger.
Those attitudes may not be as conscious, and clearly not as overt as in years gone by, Woods says, adding that the complexities of the 21st-century require fine-tuned, policy driven strategies if the needed transformation is to occur.
Victor Okafor, department head in Africology and African American Studies at EMU, says it's vital to remember that the Civil Rights Movement was not a one-day affair involving a single speech.
By 1963, King had been playing a leadership role in the Civil Rights struggle for eight continuous years, dating back to 1955, when the young, 26-year-old church minister was recruited to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association in the wake of Rosa Parks' much-celebrated refusal to give up her bus seat for a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, Okafor notes in his blog.
"As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for freedom and for jobs, we should also use the occasion to recommit ourselves to the educational transformations brought about by the parent Civil Rights Movement of that era," Okafor says. "Transformations that, by and large, enabled the United States to achieve a deeper self-understanding necessary for social tranquility and progress."