The March on Washington, as seen in the eyes of today's young adults
August 25, 2013 8:00 AM
The marchers, Aug. 28, 1963, with Martin Luther King Jr. at center.
Meaning of 'a stone of hope' slowly reveals itself
By Claire Aronson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."
That is what Martin Luther King Jr. promised the thousands of protesters who gathered for the March on Washington 50 years ago - that one day all Americans, regardless of race, will be treated as equal. King hoped that out of the dark mountain filled of despair will come one stone of hope.
For King and many other blacks, this stone of hope didn't immediately come to them - the struggle for equality continued.
I remember being a naive fifth-grader at a South Florida elementary school learning about this fight for equality. We read about the march, King and other influential civil rights leaders. We sympathized with those who fought for their equality, those who faced segregation daily and in every aspect of their lives. But, did we fully understand their fight, struggle and daily experience? For me, I don't think I will ever understand fully, but with each year in school and each trip to D.C., I can begin to further comprehend their struggle.
As a wide-eyed 10-year-old, I thought I knew. But, that aha moment didn't come until my 11th grade AP English class when we analyzed the rhetoric of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Line by line, we studied the language King used and the message he was trying to convey. Yes, I didn't completely understand their struggle, but it finally impacted me, gaining a better understanding of America's landscape and racial segregation at the time. Thousands of U.S. citizens walked from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial fighting for equality and to be guaranteed those rights promised to all Americans by our Founding Fathers - the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Almost four years ago, I traveled to Memphis, Tenn., with several other journalism students from Indiana University-Bloomington. We went to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where King was assassinated. This really moved me. To see the place where one man's fight for equality ended simply because of the color of his skin gave me chills. It is awe-inspiring to think that he fought for something with such passion and dedication but was not able to see it come to fruition.
When I traveled to the nation's capital earlier this summer, I visited the King Memorial. It was dedicated Aug. 28, 2011, the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington. The memorial is inspired architecturally by the "out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope" excerpt from King's speech. From the memorial's "mountain of despair," there is a "stone of hope" surging forward, symbolizing the hope King had on that day 50 years ago and how that hope has since surged forward to create a country where equality exists.
The memorial's location is significant - on the Tidal Basin between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument - a path where thousands marched fighting for equality a half a century ago. Through the detachment of the stone from the "mountain of despair," visitors can look across to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, which reflects the principles of freedom and liberty that the nation was founded on.
I may not have lived through the 1960s, the time of segregation and the civil rights movement, but I am able to as fully as possible understand King's message and those who fought for their right of equality.
Claire Aronson, 21, of Weston, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale, is a senior at Indiana University at Bloomington, majoring in journalism.
The dream still lives on in at least one heart
By Kelton Brooks, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
This 50th anniversary is more than just another year. It's more than just the rehashing of a monumental march that has maneuvered its way through history, and it is more than just the retelling of a speech that has truly rung through the ears of America.
For me, it's home.
I was born and raised in Memphis, Tenn., and graduated from the University of Mississippi. Every voice I heard, every step I took and every set of eyes I looked into was a remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr., and it still is to this day. Even in Pittsburgh, there is a street named after King.
I remember going on field trips in elementary school to the National Civil Rights Museum, which is in Memphis and incorporates part of the Lorraine Hotel, where King was assassinated on an outside balcony in 1968. At the time, I wasn't aware of the significance and aura of the building. I didn't understand why so many people were overflowing with emotion. I even remember my first grade teacher, Ms. Pete, wiping a tear from her eye and the crackle in her voice.
I didn't know what to make of the civil rights timeline that defined the lives of generations of African Americans and everyone in this country. Who were those faces of all shades and color on the museum's Freedom Award Wall? How was I to have known the magnitude of a place with so much history at a young age?
All I knew was that a story was being told of man that was killed who had a dream. I didn't know much of King at the time, but I do remember my grandparents telling me I can affect and change the lives of others just like him.
Because of King's dream and the impact his legacy has left on the nation, I, too, have a dream. What are we without dreams? We must find something that we believe in deep within our hearts and mind and set forth on a journey to catch that dream. You have to want and believe in something more than anybody else.
The entrance of the Civil Rights Museum is marked by a metal door with a quote from King's 'Mountaintop' speech at the Mason Temple in Memphis that he made the night before his assassination: "I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get to the promised land."
Memphis wasn't the best city to grow up in, but having a dream pulled me out it. If King's dream still doesn't reside in the hearts of everyone across the world, I promise his dream still lives in me.
Kelton Brooks, 22, recently received his BA in journalism from the University of Mississippi.
A big impact, an unfinished dream
By Nicolas Dubois, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The color TV screen switching to black and white, the face of an unknown man and four powerful words: this is essentially all I remember from the first time I saw Martin Luther King Jr. on TV. As an 8-year-old living in France in 1997, I didn't know what those words meant and what an impact they would have on people. All I remember is a man speaking with incredible conviction to a crowd who was spellbound by his words.
To me, all of these notions were so foreign in more than one way. I hadn't yet started learning English and thus, I was unable to understand King's speech. And yet, it was not just a question of language; it was also mainly a question of background.
When you are a white child in a country that is predominantly white you don't feel really affected by racial issues. But it probably had more to do with the fact that I was just 8 rather than being white.
In fact, just one year later when France won the soccer World Cup thanks to a player of North African origins, people took the streets not only to celebrate the team's victory but also to proclaim, more than 200 years after the Declaration of Human Rights, that indeed "men are born and remain free and equal in rights" (especially if you are good at soccer). The feeling, however, didn't last long and the country once again felt the impact of racism. During the 2002 French presidential election, Jean-Marie Le Pen, candidate for the National Front, a far-right party in France, advanced to the second round of voting, an astounding feat in the history of the French Fifth Republic.
In 2002, King's words resonated more deeply with me. I eventually figured out what racism was, of course, but I also discovered what tolerance was, what wisdom was, what King's fight was all about. Learning about the civil rights movement later at school then gave me another dimension to what I experienced in my daily life.
However, I was still far from appreciating the true impact of how he shaped attitudes and to what extent his influence is still very relevant, especially among African Americans.
This desire is what drove me to Detroit to study journalism for a year. African Americans make up 82.7 percent of the Motor City's population.
Two months before he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, King went to Detroit and walked once again for freedom with tens of thousands of people.
One of the most surprising things I saw when coming to the U.S. was the social situation of African Americans. The black population has one of the highest poverty rates in the U.S. I realize that King's speech is even more relevant today than ever before.
Fifty years ago King said, "We must face the tragic fact that ... the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. ... The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. ... The Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land."
Fifty years later, this "land" still exists in America and there is still so much progress yet to be made. Martin Luther King Jr. was hoping for a change, maybe Americans will finally see this happen for the march's 100th anniversary.
Nicolas Dubois, 23, a graduate of Ecole Publique de Journalisme de Tours in France, is a Post-Gazette intern. A native of Britanny, he recently studied journalism at Wayne State University in Detroit. He can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter @nicolasduboisJ2.
The man, the march, the dream
By Curtis Edmonds, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
I learned about Martin Luther King Jr. when I was 6. He and all the other civil rights leaders, the other "black firsts" seemed like heroes from the past to me. But the impact of who they were, what they did, the sacrifices they made didn't really hit me until more than a year ago.
I applied for a program through the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs called "Race in America: Then and Now." The program involved three weeks of travel last summer through Southern states with roughly a dozen other students and an instructor as we learned about race in the United States, with a heavy emphasis on the Civil Rights movement.
There were moments before the trip that I almost forgot my family was even from the South. I am one of the youngest descendants in a line that started with a great-great-great- grandfather who was an Arkansas slave; a great-grandfather who was a Mississippi sharecropper; grandparents who were the Northern products of the Great Migration from the rural South to big Midwestern cities.
At 19, I realized I really didn't know much about myself, or about that time period in American history that turned hegemonic ideas about race on their head. That summer, learning and re-learning about the figures of the civil rights movement, and having the opportunity to listen to King's "I Have a Dream" speech reminded me exactly who I am and the sort of dreams I have.
I'm a hopeless optimist deep down inside, and not only do I want to see King's dream realized (it hasn't been just yet), I want to see it truly celebrated. His legacy is more than a day in January or a week in February to teach about tolerance and "black" history. He's so much more than that. King is, inarguably, an American icon.
Who would have imagined that 50 years after King's March on Washington, the country would see the amount of racial progress we have now? Since King's speech, it is no longer remarkable that there is a Puerto Rican Supreme Court justice or two black secretaries of State - in a row. That part of King's dream has been more than realized. But I think what concerns me, and many others, is that some of the most critical parts of his speech don't seem to have come to fruition.
While the "Dream" speech is most notable for its highly emotional zenith ("Let freedom ring!") some of the most powerful declarations are in the beginning. King said, "One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land."
Many would argue this is still true today. Despite incredible, unbelievable progress for all Americans of color, the truth is they tend to be on the outskirts of American society, in the background of what America is, instead of at the center. Unfortunately, this country is still fighting battles I thought were won with King's March on Washington, battles I believed ended after my grandparents' generation.
We are still fighting for justice for a black teenager who was stalked and fatally shot by a white Hispanic neighborhood watchman.
We are still fighting against unnecessary and largely symbolic voter ID laws, which, for many African-Americans are seen as a thinly veiled poll tax and a barrier to voting.
We are still fighting for equal access and opportunity for all people.
And perhaps that was King's dream - that we continue to fight for equality, justice and fairness. After all, he did say, "The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges."
I don't think any of us know when that bright day is coming, but we all need to believe we will get there.
Curtis Edmonds, now 20, is a junior at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, majoring in communication and political science.