Civil rights leaders reflect on the state of the struggle ahead of March on Washington

Sixty years after civil rights pioneer Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., marched to Washington, D.C., to call for freedom and economic growth, today’s generation of civil rights leaders reflect on their ancestors’ push to achieve liberty and justice for all Americans and the current state of the civil rights movement in today’s political climate. 

Monday marks the actual anniversary of the historic march, where Dr. King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. The state of civil rights in the country has been murky due to recent legislation and court rulings changes affecting Black history and civil rights. 

Dr. King’s son, Martin Luther King III, told The Hill in an interview that his father wouldn’t have imagined the country and his son’s generation still fighting for basic civil rights. 

King, along with other civil rights leaders and politicians, took part in The Hill’s “Walk to Freedom Turns 60: Miles to Go – A Discussion on the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom” virtual event, moderated by The Hill’s Race & Politics Reporter and host of The Switch Up Podcast Cheyanne M. Daniels. 

“But I can’t imagine that he would have envisioned necessarily that in 2023 that our nation would be at loggerheads in relationship to fighting to protect and preserve democracy, fighting to expand the right to vote, to make it easier to vote, as opposed to making it harder to vote, as some states have done, fighting to regain the right to choose, fighting just for people to have basic rights, the LGBTQ community and the list goes on and on,” said King, the chairman of the Drum Major Institute.

King, alongside with wife, Andrea Waters King, also said that it is a positive that the generation after his and his fathers are “determined and focused on getting our nation to a better place.” 

“We’ve got to reintroduce civility into the political space that has been temporarily lost. It is not gone,” King added. “And and so I think my mother and father certainly would be proud of certain things, certain to be so proud of, of our daughter, their granddaughter, who in her own way is choosing to carry on.”

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told The Hill that the nation’s democracy is under attack, noting the recent attacks on education, civil rights, and voting rights. 

“But nothing matters more than people understanding that this democracy belongs to all of us,” Horsford said. “It’s not some archaic thing that only applies to a certain view to the well-connected into the well off, it includes all of us and the institutions of our democracy are the fundamentals that we’re working to defend in this moment.” 

The 60th anniversary of the march comes amid a swing of legislation and court rulings involving civil rights and Black history. 

Recently, multiple GOP-led states have banned the teaching of “critical race theory,” a legal theory that says U.S. institutions are inherently racist, which critics argue has been a cover to ban discussions of race in schools

States legislatures such as Florida and Arkansas have banned the teaching of Advanced Placement African American studies courses from their school districts, citing that the curriculum violates new laws that prohibit the teaching of these topics in schools. 

The Supreme Court earlier in June struck down affirmative action, a process that allowed colleges and universities to use race-conscious admissions. 

NAACP President Derrick Johnson, who was alongside Courtland Cox, one of the co-organizers for the march and a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, said sixty years after the march, the fight for civil rights will still continue. 

“There is no community more American than Black Americans,” Johnson said. “Despite all of the reneging of the promise we still hold, true to making democracy work is one of our primary responsibilities and to assure equal protection under the law.”

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