In a 1967 speech, Martin Luther King, Jr., criticizing black separatism, said, "In the final analysis the weakness of Black Power is its failure to see that the black man needs the white man and the white man needs the black man. However much we may try to romanticize the slogan, there is no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not intersect white paths, and there is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share that power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity We are bound together in a single garment of destiny." It was his philosophy of inclusion which has led to civil rights expansions across generations. From Letter from a Birmingham Jail until the end of his life, he believed that we're all in this together, that we rise and fall with each other. There was no us vs. them, nobody he wouldn't embrace or persuade to join in the fight for civil rights.
August 28, 1963's protest speech was about that same inclusive philosophy. David Broder writes:
I filled my notebook with comments from marchers who had journeyed long distances and the reasons they gave me for making the effort. A few had specific political agendas -- voicing their distaste for the blockades the legislation had encountered. But most said that they had heard about the plans at church or at temple and simply decided they wanted to be part of it. They came to affirm their solidarity and, if you will, their humanity.What would become the iconic "I Have A Dream" speech started with a protest, it started with the general goal of promoting basic human rights. The White House was terrified. A bunch of unhappy protesters descending upon the Capitol would probably scare anyone. But especially them. Promises were made about civil rights expansions during the 1963 campaign. The candidate himself promised to promote civil rights more, and then, with the appointment of RFK in his administration, it seemed like he was taking them seriously.
What became apparent, as the masses moved slowly along the Reflecting Pool and gathered before the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, was that if this was a mob, it was the most benign mob in history.
And then, nothing.
The frustration was great because hopes for civil rights had been raised so high by John F. Kennedy's campaign rhetoric and by his decision to name his brother Robert as attorney general. The top ranks of the Justice Department were filled with civil rights advocates, but on Capitol Hill, the traditional opponents were slow-walking every bill, with scarcely an audible objection from the White House.A campaign which promised equality, used flowery, beautiful rhetoric, and then started making promising appointments early on. An administration and Congress which then decided to slow walk important equality bills. A spineless government unwilling to change in the face of a broad social movement, yearning for nothing short of full acceptance and inclusion.
Martin Luther King, Jr., his friends, their friends, random people, and anyone else all fed into this frenzy for equality. They all joined hands together and marched. They sang songs. Regardless of their color, gender, orientation, religion or economic status they stood up for each other. And they stood up for equal rights for all. He embraced the urgency of the social changes that were starting to take place. He saw what the White House and Congress did not see: that this is going to happen, whether they get onboard or not. He saw the anger, the resentment, but he also saw the hope in people. Whites joined with blacks, hand in hand, to stand against this discrimination. Everyone was angry together because everyone knew they were in this together. My fate is tied to yours. We are not separate, we are not fighting different fights. We are not dealing with things that are more or less important than the things anyone else is dealing with. It is the same. It was the same then. It will always be the same. Civil rights are human rights, whether they're explicitly gay rights or non-white rights or whatever else. They aren't, and can never be, exclusive. We'll never win equality if we're still fighting for separation from others.
That fight started out much the same way as the fight for gay rights, much the same way as all other fights do. We show up and demand change, and the politicians see that. And then they campaign and promise change. They promise to usher in a new era of equality. They promise to be fierce advocates. They seize this anger they see during the campaign season and they promise to do something. Politicians channel it into votes and action. And then, as in all our struggles, they slow walk everything. They get scared. They change their minds.
What they forget is the anger doesn't change with them. It stays. It festers. It didn't go away in 1963 and it won't go away now. I hope to God it never dissipates for anyone who cares about equality.
This is a fight that we are winning. That we will win. Equality doesn't go backwards. This is a turning point in the struggle for civil rights. Everyone is scared of what the future holds for the civil rights of gay Americans. Nobody knows if the threats of the de-institutionalization of marriage are true. People are convinced that if the government stops taking gays' rights away, society will crumble.
Just as they were back then.
And they're just as wrong.
Even before a word was spoken -- let alone the eloquent words that have echoed down through history -- it had become absolutely evident from the people themselves that achieving civil rights would be the way to heal, not damage, the country.What are we afraid of, today?
I went back to the Star wondering what it was we had been afraid of. And I've remembered this many times since, when people have tried to teach us to fear certain things, such as someone else's marriage or place of worship.