A Sixtieth Anniversary Reflection

August 28, 2023

August 28, 2023, represents the sixtieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

It also marks the two days since the latest tragic murder of innocent African Americans - Angela Carr, 52, Anolt Laguerre, Jr., 19, and Jerrald De'Shaun Gallion, 29 - by white racist hands in Jacksonville, Florida. We, therefore, take this time to recognize the deep and continued pain that the acts of evil render on Black lives and to reenforce the determination to march toward the realization of justice, true peace, and beloved community.

This latest act of terror shows that we continue to live in a state of deep tension and internal conflict between the forces of an obnoxious peace and the true peace of justice and goodwill. Once again, we have witnessed the public execution and maiming of Black people at the hands of white racism. And, this weekend, during the heinous act in Jacksonville, we arose in righteous indignation to demand justice from a nation in deep conflict with itself. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, sixty years from the date of the 1963 march, vast throngs of people of goodwill gathered together to pay tribute and to stand against the evils of the deep, festering and continuing effects of systemic racism and inequality.

On March 18, 1956, two days before he was to stand trial for his participation in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a twenty-seven year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in the pulpit of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, to deliver a sermon entitled "When Peace Becomes Obnoxious."

In this sermon, King notes how obnoxious peace sacrifices human dignity and human rights for the comfort of the powerful. He then argues that true peace confronts obnoxious peace with justice and goodwill, even in the face of tension and danger. In fact, this is King’s definition of peace: "True peace is not the absence tension, but the presence of justice and goodwill… [And,] if we accept exploitation and injustice…it will be an obnoxious peace….[Therefore], [i]f peace means accepting second class citizenship…[i]f peace means keeping [our mouths] shut in the midst of injustice and evil,…[i]f peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated,… in a non-violent manner we must revolt against this peace."

This weekend's tragic act bore witness to the depravity that continues to infect the American soul. But, we also bore witness to the medication available to us to purge this infection and make us whole, and that medication consists of active engagement - marching, protesting, acting. It also consists of the practical and pragmatic actions that gained rights that all of us enjoy and that so many gave their lives for, namely the expansion of our fundamental right to vote, because voting is vital to the practical change we wish to see in our communities and in our country.

But, voting alone cannot eliminate this infection. We must also lend our voice to the national conversation about who we are and what we wish to be as a country. For, to eliminate this infection of racism, hatred, injustice, and inequality America must confront the truth of itself and tackle the difficult work of honestly dealing with these embedded problems and righting them.

We have the medication to heal the infection in our midst. So, with the healing power of active engagement, true peace, and love, let us march on until 'justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!' (Amos 5:24 [NASB])

Notes: Quotes taken from Martin Luther King, Jr., "When Peace Becomes Obnoxious (March 18, 1956)," The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume VI: Advocate of the Social Gospel, September 1948 – March 1963, Clayborne Carson, Susan Carson, Susan Englander, Troy Jackson, and Gerald L. Smith, eds., 2007, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), pp. 257-59.