Lee: Don't forget March on Washington


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Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., along with several other civil-rights leaders, spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Of course, the most notable component was King’s “I Have A Dream” speech — a 17-minute oration that would be engrained in this nation’s moral fabric for years to come. 

Through King’s efforts, he showed us that change, both minor and significant, could be achieved through nonviolence and peaceful collaboration. His “Dream” speech in particular is universally respected partly because it was the final spark igniting the flame to combat racial inequality that persisted even after Brown v. Board of Education. The March on Washington in its entirety was the compelling and powerful catalyst that pushed for legislation to presumably level the playing field for all Americans.

That being said, there wasn’t much publicity on campus on Aug. 28 commemorating King’s efforts and the participants of the march. A 50-year celebration is a big deal; it’s an opportunity to show gratitude for the countless individuals who peacefully marched that August day. The march not only helped change public policy in the South where it was most needed, but also in the North, a region that also reeked of racial injustices. 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Fair Housing Act of 1968 affected every imaginable space in America, including Iowa City. Therefore, the university handling of the march’s anniversary should have been more substantial. More students and community members should have been more aware of the day and its meaning. There should have been an event where potentially, the community could have discussed how far Iowa City has come and ways we can improve civil and human rights on both a national and local level.

There’s no doubt our country has made positive strides, but the dream is not entirely fulfilled. This summer, a key component of the Voting Rights Act was struck down, a decision that could play a massive part in the disenfranchisement of underrepresented groups. Institutional racism, the achievement gap in education and socioeconomics, the lack of sufficient health care, and the disproportionate representation of minority groups in America’s criminal-justice system persists.

That problem is particularly evident in our state; Iowa has one of the highest racial disparities among its prison population in the country.  

It’s important we address these social realities even if we favorably assess America’s progress. It’s easy to say Americans have reached an even playing field in terms of race, sexual orientation, and gender roles, but in many cases, this is not true. 

There should have been a visible campus event Aug. 28 to remember the March on Washington. The national conversation about race and equality is not dead, and it’s not too late to have one still. But such conversations won’t happen without prompting. Not only must we keep alive the dream and aspirations of King and many other brave men and women, but we should keep the open discussion of our hopes for America alive as well.

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