August 28 is a momentous date in US history. I was thinking about a question someone asked me earlier his year. It was whether someone – Bryan Stevenson, specifically, but it doesn’t matter – was the “new Martin Luther King, Jr.”
A couple of minutes later, I realized it was the wrong question. King gave the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC on this date in 1963. While he may have been a singularly gifted orator, HE wasn’t the Civil Rights Movement. There were a quarter of a million people at that demonstration alone. They all struggled to create racial justice back at home.
Millions have fought the fight since before the founding of the United States and still do so today. Most of them have names we don’t know. Some we’re familiar with because of the abuse they suffered. John Lewis, who was the youngest speaker on this date in 1963 in Washington, is recognized because he survived violence on several occasions, notably in Selma on March 7, 1965.
Others we know, probably better because they were killed. The deaths of Medgar Evers (1963) and James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner (1964) are seared in my memory. But so are the murders of Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, both in March 1965 in Alabama. Malcolm X’s 1965 death is being reinvestigated in 2020.
Emmett Till was murdered on August 28, 1955, in Mississippi. I’ve mentioned him more than once here. He might have been just another black kid killed by bigotry. But his mom had the courage to let his beaten corpse be shown to the world. My daughter went to the National Museum for African American History and Culture in February 2020 with a bunch of church folk. One of her friends was stunned by the inhumanity of his death.
Obviously, we haven’t achieved that “post-racial” nirvana some people – not I – predicted after Barack Obama was elected President in 2008. BTW, he accepted the Democratic nomination on August 28 of that year. But it’s not going to be an Obama or a King or the mother of Emmitt Till who will change the world. It’ll just have to be all of us.