A lot of stuff happened fifty years ago today.
Here in Washington state, it was the opening of the SR-520 floating bridge.
In New York City’s upper East Side, two young women were murdered in their apartment. Later, a 19 year old black man named George Whitmore, Jr. was arrested for the murders. The police coerced a confession out of him through intimidation and by assaulting him.
Whitmore was eventually cleared, but the case had two lasting impacts on America. First, it was cited by the Supreme court when they established guidelines known as Miranda rights. Secondly, it was used as justification to restrict and eventually eliminate New York state’s death penalty.
Fifty years ago today in the other Washington, a quarter of a million people gathered for a “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” The official program began with the National Anthem sung by Marian Anderson, and an Invocation by the Archbishop of Washington, the Rev. Patrick O’Boyle. (O’Boyle was a leader in racial desegregation and desegregated D.C.’s Catholic schools long before the Supreme Court made it mandatory.)
John Lewis, now a Democratic Congressman from Georgia, gave a speech as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. An excellent speech was given by Rabbi Joachim Prinz, President of the American Jewish Congress (listen here).
And, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech that marked a turning point for the civil rights movement:
Today, fifty years later, there is another gathering in D.C. for a week-long remembrance.
Today’s speakers included Rev. Al Sharpton (2:44:50), Opera Winfrey (3:25:33), Rep. Lewis (3:34:45), President Jimmy Carter (3:45:10), President Bill Clinton (3:51:50), and President Barack Obama (4:25:10).
How did Republicans celebrate? Both Presidents Bush couldn’t make it for health reasons. George W. Bush did offer a statement.
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) memorialized the 50th anniversary by going on a civil rights pilgrimage through Alabama with Rep. Lewis. Cantor released a statement that concludes:
I was especially moved by the gesture of Montgomery Police Chief Kevin Murphy who presented John Lewis with the badge off his uniform apologizing for the police department’s failure to protect the African American community in those turbulent days of the ’50’s and ’60’s. Reflecting on these important moments in our nation’s history, I look forward to focusing on ways in which together we can continue to confront challenges and solve the nation’s problems.
Ummm…has anyone mentioned to him that voting rights for African Americans are under, what appears to be, a systematic attack after the Supreme Court gutted part of the Voting Rights act?
At least one Republican is willing to do something. Speaking at a RNC by-invite-only commemoration luncheon at the Capitol Hill Club on Monday, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said:
“[M]y job is to fix the Voting Rights Act,” and promised that by the end of the year, Congress would create and pass the section of the law struck down by Supreme Court in June.
Other speakers…not so much. The RNC event also featured former congressman Allen West (R-FL) and former Ohio Secretary of
Voter Suppression State Ken Blackwell (R).
Daily Beast‘s Ben Jacob was underwhelmed by the RNC event.
In other venues, we had this contribution from former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL). It’s a teabaggy
dream nightmare delivered to his radio audience:
I have a dream that young unmarried black women will say “no” to young black men who want to have sex.
I have a dream that today’s black leadership will quit blaming racism and “the system” for what ails black America.
I have a dream that black America will take responsibility for improving their own lives.
I have a dream that one day black America will cease their dependency on the government plantation, which has enslaved them to lives of poverty, and instead depend on themselves, their families, their churches, and their communities.
Ahhh, yes. God (or gods) bless the First Amendment, but it’s sure good to have him in the former Rep. category.