Tags: barack obama, civil rights movement, justice, martin luther king jr, national mall, non-violence, police brutality, protest movement, racism, segregation, voting rights
Thousands converged on the National Mall in Washington, DC on Sunday October 16th for the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. The dedication will be remembered as a historic event as King is the first African-American to be honored with a statue on the National Mall. The event featured performances by Aretha Franklin and Nikki Giovanni and remarks by Rev. Al Sharpton. (I imagine a lot of pews in Washington, DC were empty that morning…). President Barack Obama delivered the keynote speech; Obama was only 6 years old when King was assassinated.
In thinking about the dedication of the memorial I’m reminded of the passing of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth less than two weeks ago on October 5th. Shuttlesworth was an icon of the civil rights movement, in many ways the opposite temperament of King, but certainly no less effective and absolutely courageous. In the seminal documentary film series Eyes On The Prize, Shuttlesworth is one of my favorite interviews and an incredible witness to history. In describing the need to confront racism and segregation head-on and with force, Shuttlesworth says, “You can’t shame segregation… rattle snakes don’t commit suicide; ball teams don’t strike themselves out – you got to put’em out!” Shuttlesworth survived beatings and bombings; he took the battle against segregation to the streets and to the courts. In 1965, securing the passage of the Voting Rights Act was a major goal of the civil rights movement; in Selma, Alabama, civil rights activists were beaten and tear-gassed by state troopers. The television news coverage of the brutality faced by the non-violent protesters helped shift the national conversation about the civil rights movement.
In 2007, a march was held to commemorate the Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches. As the crowd crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the notorious “Bloody Sunday“, it was then Senator Barack Obama who pushed Shuttlesworth’s wheelchair across the bridge.
President Obama’s remarks at the King dedication: