US Bishops' Statement on Today's 50th Anniversary of 'I Have a Dream' Speech
Aug. 29, 2013
Here is a statement from the US bishops' Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church on today's 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech during that march. The bishops' statement was released Aug. 13.
As we mark the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that occurred on August 28, 1963, we call attention to this significant event in the history of the struggle for Civil Rights for African Americans and other minority racial groups in the United States. Those who participated in the March on Washington came from different races and faith denominations, but were all united for a just cause. Seeking to touch and to move the heart of America, they came to the nation’s capital and marched to advance the cause for Civil Rights, calling for an end to segregation. They called attention to the economic disparity that existed for African Americans and other minorities in this country. St. Paul in Sacred Scripture declares, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!” (Romans 10:15), and the participants marched on foot and proclaimed the good news of our God who acts in favor of the marginalized in our country; they called upon the nation to enact legislation that would benefit those suffering and forgotten. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, which redirected the moral compass of the nation toward concern for the cause of justice. Even today his words continue to inspire us. Joining Dr. King at the March on Washington were other religious, civic and community leaders, among them Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, who delivered the invocation, and many Roman Catholic priests, religious sisters and brothers and lay faithful.
Fifty years later, we cannot deny the wide spectrum of advancement in many realms of society. We laud the fact that in our country there is more racial and cultural diversity among the leadership in both the public and private sectors. Many more doors of opportunity are open and certain legal remedies are in place. These benefits have allowed members of minority racial groups in our country to advance, and to offer more fully the benefits of their gifts and talents in efforts to work toward the common good for all in our country. The March on Washington and the struggle for Civil Rights have brought about significant accomplishments in the past 50 years.
However, the Dream of Dr. King and all who marched and worked with him has not yet fully become a reality for many in our country. While we cannot deny the change that has taken place, there remains much to be accomplished. The US Catholic Bishops in their 1979 Pastoral Letter on Racism Brothers and Sisters to Us state, “But neither can it be denied that too often what has happened has only been a covering over, not a fundamental change. Today the sense of urgency has yielded to an apparent acceptance of the status quo. The climate of crisis engendered by demonstrations, protests, and confrontation has given way to a mood of indifference, and other issues occupy our attention.” These words continue to ring true at this current point in history. Further, the African American Catholic Bishops reminded us in their 1984 Pastoral Letter on Evangelization What We Have Seen and Heard that “the cause of justice and social concerns are an essential part of evangelization.” We must never allow other issues to eclipse our belief in the fundamental human dignity of each and every person, and our responsibility to build up and to transform society in the manner in which the gospel message of Jesus Christ clearly makes evident to us.
Marking this 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, we join our voices to those who call for and foster continued dialogue and non-violence among people of different races and cultures, and who work tirelessly for the transformative, constructive actions that are always the fruit of such authentic dialogue. We rejoice in the advances that have occurred over the past 50 years, and sadly acknowledge that much today remains to be accomplished. However, we must always view the task that remains from the perspective of the continued call to hope and in the light of faith. Dr. King once stated, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Those who participated 50 years ago in the March on Washington rooted themselves in infinite hope. Pope Francis wrote in Lumen Fidei, “Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters.” We also must join with one another rooted in infinite hope and, in light of what faith teaches, work to advance and fulfill the dream. We join the call for positive action that seeks to end poverty, increase jobs, eliminate racial and class inequality, ensure voting rights, and that provides fair and just opportunities for all.
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