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Faith leaders featured in 60th anniversary of March on Washington

WCC President Angelique Walker Smith at 60th anniversary of the March on Washington

A continuation, not a commemoration: at the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., religious and civic leaders spoke before thousands of demonstrators who turned out despite intense summertime heat on Aug. 26.

They stood with signs and flags, children with their parents and elders, many of whom remembered the day back in August 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr and his "I Have a Dream" speech became icons in the push for justice and peace. Some carried photos taken 60 years ago.

Then and now, marchers affirmed their fight for justice and peace is not over.

World Council of Churches (WCC) president from North America Angelique Walker-Smith brought greetings to the crowd from the WCC, and reflected on the power of faith, resiliency and resolve.

"Yes, we have marched nationally and globally and we are still marching!" she said. "Let us remember we must always march forward, for to do otherwise is to give in to death which we can never do!

"Let us be clear that we are a global and beautiful people seeking the embodiment of reparatory justice and God-given freedoms, even as we seek to find new ways to love one another having learned from our past and moving forward in faith, by faith and grace," Angelique added.

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA president and general secretary, asked those gathered: "When are we going to say enough is enough? Crazily, it is unsafe to be Black and Brown anywhere, anytime in America. This is an all-out war against us."

The same day as the March on Washington, a gunman took the lives of three people of African descent in Jacksonville, Florida at a local store, a hate-based attack originally intended for Edward Waters University, a campus related to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic Black church and a WCC member church.
It's a struggle every day for people to maintain their personhood, noted Vashti. "People feel they have a right to revoke our rights—basic rights—all of them making a mockery out of democracy," she said. "This is the hour to keep believing that justice is still possible even when democracy is on life support.

"This is the time. We must have the will to lead and not just react," she said. "We must reset the moral compass of our nations. Now is the time. Now is the hour. The future is in your hands."

Bishop Charley Hames Jr, presiding bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, reflected that the March on Washington in 1963 was not really a singular moment but a catalyst for change reverberating through generations.

"As we stand here today, we recognize that the fight for equality, justice, and civil rights is not over," Charley said. "We must carry the torch they lit and continue their mission to create a truly inclusive and equitable society."

The March on Washington 60 years ago was a powerful statement against racial injustice, he acknowledged, commenting, "They demonstrated the power of the collective action and the strength of unity. The March on Washington reminds us that we must address all forms of systemic oppression and discrimination.

"Today, we still witness injustices that demand our attention and action," Charley added. "We must challenge prejudice and discrimination where we encounter them. We must amplify the voices of the marginalized communities."

Marching is still necessary, he urged, otherwise, "my grandson will be seen as a weapon and not as a child of God."
Bishop Talbert Wesley Swan II from the Church of God in Christ reflected that "we live in strange times. We are here to say you cannot erase us. We're not going anywhere."

On July 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr should have entered the Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden to preach at the opening service of the WCC's 4th Assembly, but he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

On its 75th anniversary, the WCC remembers that ecumenical moments of profound lament still shape the ecumenical commitment to justice and peace.

Franklyn Richardson, chair of the National Action Network, a primary hosting organization of the March on Washington, said it was not merely a march of reflection but a march of projecting into the future.

"We will not let the clock turn back. We've come through great difficulties and hardships," said Franklyn, who is a former member of the WCC Central Committee.

Noting that the nation was built on the backs of African-Americans and African people, he said, "Today we come to serve notice that we are determined to collect what we invested—what our foremothers and forefathers deposited in this nation. We are all here because we all have an investment in this nation turning and living up to its possibilities."

In a letter to those gathered, WCC general secretary Jerry Pillay said, "Today we see far because we stand on the shoulders of the giants of 1963. The march must continue. I exhort you, sisters and brothers, to make sure that we are not the last wave," he urged. "The demands must be taken to every nook and cranny of the earth!"

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September 2023