It was August 28, 1963, and it was hot as hell. But the sermon, 50 years ago today, probably was the coolest and most meaningful we’d heard or heard of since Jesus finished speaking, rose from the rock where he was seated and walked down “the Mount.”
The Sermon on the Mall was in some ways a 20th century update of the Sermon on the Mount, making many of the same points and the reaction to each was approximately the same.
Today is Wednesday. 8/28/63 was a Wednesday. We don’t know which day of the week Jesus sat on the rock. In fact, we don’t even really know if he DID sit on the rock, but that’s what Carl Bloch’s painting shows and it’s the image in many of our heads.
So there was Dr. King and 250-thousand of his close friends, some who didn’t know it and had never before heard of him. He was talking about his dream of racial equality and judging people “...not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
And now, 50 years later, part of that dream has come true. But only part.
To remind, the official title of the gathering that day was the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” We don’t always remember the “jobs and freedom” part. The national unemployment rate in 1963 was 5.7%. The black unemployment rate was about 11%. That five percent difference doesn’t look all that big until you see the raw numbers.
In 1963, the US population was about 189 million of which about 21 million were black. Eleven percent of 21 = 2.31.
Today, the US population is 316 million of which about 39 million are black. The most recent available overall unemployment rate is 7.4% and the black unemployment rate is pushing 14% which is almost 5.5 million.
And all these figures are subject to debate because of the ways the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the rates. The number of job holders is marching backward.
Then, there’s the freedom part. We no longer have separate “but equal” schools though some say they’re more segregated today than they were when segregation was legal.
There no longer are “colored only” water fountains, public restrooms, hotels, lunch counters and seats on the bus. And it’s no longer fashionable to be a public racist. But privately, some things never change.
So there’s some progress. But, of course, you can’t legislate feelings and attitudes.
Both Martin Luther King and Jesus were preaching to the choir. Pretty large choirs. But much of the choir wasn’t listening. And still isn’t.
In almost two thousand years, we haven’t seen the meek inherit the earth and it doesn’t look like much about that will change in the immediate future. Maybe it isn’t in our nature.
(Note to readers: You can find the full texts of both sermons on line. We can’t direct you to a link to “Dream” because of copyright murkiness and won’t link to “Mount” because you probably have a copy on a dusty shelf somewhere or know someone who’ll let you see it.)
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2013