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Be inspired by March on Washington: Bill Clinton column

6:44 PM, Aug. 26, 2013  |  Comments
Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
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Most of us who are old enough remember exactly where we were on Aug. 28, 1963. I watched the March on Washington unfold on national television from a reclining chair in the den of my house in Hot Springs, Ark. Dr. King's ringing, rhythmic speech brought tears to my eyes, and I remember thinking that, when it was over, my country would never be the same.

By late August, the summer of 1963 had already been a memorable one for me; I'd turned 17, and I'd shaken hands with President Kennedy during a Boys Nation event at the White House.

But the march and the speech had an even more profound impact on me and millions of others all across the country who felt a deeper, more personal commitment to racial equality and justice than they ever had before.

The speech reinforced the themes that drove Dr. King's work: that we are bound together in an inescapable web of "mutuality," and, whether we like it or not, when basic human rights and economic security are denied to some of us, we all suffer; that true equality and justice can best be achieved through determined, non-violent action, as Gandhi demonstrated; and that building a world of shared opportunities and responsibilities requires us to reconcile with our adversaries to create an inclusive community.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom - its full name - was a demand for both racial equality and economic justice. "We're in this together," rather than "You're on your own," meant that all Americans willing to work hard should have a chance to build a decent life together in what Georgia Rep. John Lewis - who as a young man marched alongside Dr. King that day - describes in his wonderful memoir as "the beloved community."

John Lewis must have felt one step closer to his beloved community when he and other Freedom Riders were welcomed back to Montgomery, Ala., this spring, where 52 years ago they had been abused and beaten while attempting to desegregate the interstate bus system.

In 1961, the Montgomery police refused to protect the Freedom Riders from the mob. In 2013, Police Chief Kevin Murphy not only apologized on behalf of his predecessors, he presented John with a medal from his own uniform.

Dr. King's vivid language - the longing to see "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners sit down together at the table of brotherhood," to see his four children judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" - forced white Americans to see the issue in both moral and deeply personal terms.

Like Lincoln's second inaugural address, the "I Have a Dream" speech lives on as a hymn to the "better angels of our nature," its words still inspiring and spoken by children whose parents were not even born then.

God willing, their grandchildren will also be inspired and moved to become better and bigger because of what was said and done on that distant summer day.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

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