By Sam Hodges*
Remembrance of the 1963 March on Washington climaxed Wednesday with remarks by President Obama at Washington’s Lincoln Memorial, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago to a crowd of some 250,000 assembled to push for jobs and an end to racial discrimination.
A United Methodist pastor, the Rev. Kristin Stoneking, was among the earlier speakers Wednesday. So was the Rev. Joseph Lowery, also a longtime United Methodist pastor and a legend of the civil rights movement.
Many across the denomination shared memories of the 1963 march and hopes for social change going forward.
Obama paid tribute to King and other civil rights leaders, but emphasized the courage that obscure Americans had shown in joining and supporting the march. He challenged today’s Americans to follow their example.
“In the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it,” he said.
Stoneking, a United Methodist ordained elder and director of the interfaith peace group Fellowship of Reconciliation, paid tribute to civil rights legends Bayard Rustin and the Rev. James Lawson, a fellow United Methodist, in remarks Wednesday.
She noted that Rustin, who organized the 1963 march, and Lawson are credited with helping convince King that nonviolence “had to be the way to freedom.”
“On behalf of all people of conscience, I call on our leaders here today to do all in our power to resist the siren song of militarism and embrace instead the way of Rustin, the way of King, the way of nonviolence and peace,” Stoneking said.
Lowery got a big response from the crowd for attacking the U.S. Supreme Court decision removing part of the Voting Rights Act. That legislation is considered one of the signature accomplishments of the civil rights movement.
“We ain’t going back,” Lowery said. “We’ve come too far, marched too long, prayed too hard, wept too bitterly, bled too profusely and died too young to let anybody turn back the clock on our journey to justice.”
The anniversary has been observed in various events of recent days, building to the rally Wednesday — Aug. 28, the actual anniversary — featuring Obama as well as former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
United Methodists continue to share memories of the original event and ongoing concerns about jobs, poverty and more, through speeches, sermons, essays and interviews. A sampling:
`Do we still dare dream?’
WASHINGTON (UMNS) — Retired Bishop Forest Stith was the pastor of a Methodist church in the nation’s capital during the 1963 March on Washington. In a sermon delivered Aug. 21 at Simpson Memorial Chapel of the United Methodist Building in Washington, Stith recalled his church’s role in the march. He talked as well about progress made and persisting social problems. And echoing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous address at the March, Stith asked, “Do we still dare dream?”
Times change, but agenda remains
WASHINGTON (UMNS) – The issues of jobs and freedom drew 250,000 to the 1963 March on Washington. Fifty years later, despite progress on various fronts, those issues remain crucial, said Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, in remarks at a Saturday anniversary rally.
They were there in ‘63
WASHINGTON (UMNS) — Two United Methodist clergy legends of the Civil Rights Movement, the Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr., and the Rev. George McClain, participated in the 1963 rally. They are briefly profiled in a piece by the General Commission on Religion and Race.
Lawson’s contribution looms large
NASHVILLE (UMNS) — The Rev. James Lawson’s ability to offer leadership and inspiration, and his steadfast commitment to non-violent protest, made him a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement. The Tennessean newspaper offers a profile of the United Methodist pastor, timed to the anniversary of the March on Washington.
Bishop Schol offers 2013 `dream’
OCEAN, N.J. (UMNS) – Bishop John Schol of the New Jersey Annual (regional) Conference has issued a statement about the March on Washington anniversary. In it, he gives thanks for the original marchers and offers his own 2013 “dream,” a reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 event. Schol’s statement says in part: “Today I dream for a more diverse church where our sanctuaries look more like our communities. I dream of a church that treats the stranger like an old friend. I dream of a church with an urgency of the now to heal souls and renew communities, to break down the barriers of race and class, ethnicity and nationality. I dream of a church that welcomes all.”
Dreams take leadership
WASHINGTON (UMNS) – The Rev. Lovett H. Weems Jr., director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary, reflects on leadership lessons from the March on Washington and other key episodes in the civil rights movement.
Setting the table
ASBURY PARK, N.J. (UMNS) — The Rev. Gil Caldwell, a retired United Methodist pastor with a long history in civil rights activism, writes why he thinks the 1963 March on Washington was a holy pilgrimage that also “set the table” for what the nation should become.
A pivotal moment
LONG BEACH, Calif. (UMNS) — Peggy Dammond Preacely, a veteran of the civil rights movement who is active at Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, recalled her experience at the 1963 March on Washington. “You just felt like the world was going to turn around,” she said.
Former President and First Lady pay tribute
DALLAS (UMNS) – Former President George W. Bush issued a statement about the March on Washington anniversary, on behalf of himself and his wife, former First Lady Laura Bush. They are active members of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas. The former president emphasized the role of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose “I had a Dream” speech came at the march. Bush said: “Dr. King was on this earth just 39 years, but the ideals that guided his life of conscience and purpose are eternal. Honoring him requires the commitment of every one of us. There’s still a need for every American to help hasten the day when Dr. King’s vision is made real in every community – when what truly matters is not the color of a person’s skin, but the content of their character.” The Dallas Morning News reported that the former president was not attending Wednesday’s anniversary rally in Washington because he’s recovering from a stent implanted in his heart three weeks ago. The article quoted an aide as saying Bush is doing well.
Famous speech served to `affirm and confirm’
SWANSBORO, N.C. (UMNS) – The Rev. Jim Brewster was a young Methodist pastor when he joined the throng at the 1963 March on Washington. Now retired as a clergyman but still active at Swansboro United Methodist Church, Brewster recalls that the “I Had a Dream” speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King served to “affirm and confirm” his own commitment to social justice.
`Privileged to be there’
MASON CITY, Iowa (UMNS) – After a 24-hour bus ride, the Rev. Paul Hasel arrived exhausted at the 1963 March on Washington. But Hasel, retired now, recalls getting quickly reinvigorated by the crowd and atmosphere. “The spirit of God was in our midst. I felt privileged to be there.”
Remembering a huge crowd – and no claustrophobia
DES MOINES, Iowa (UMNS) – The Rev. Gil Dawes, a retired member of the Iowa Annual (regional) Conference, recalls arriving by bus at the 1963 March on Washington. The crowd was the densest he’d ever been a part of, but the excitement cancelled out any feeling of claustrophobia.
Mid-week service for the famous March
FLORENCE, S.C. (UMNS) – Three United Methodist pastors presided at a Wednesday service at Cumberland United Methodist Church here, recognizing the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.
The March in sum
WASHINGTON (UMNS) — The Emory Fellowship, a United Methodist congregation in Washington, D.C., is offering a pictorial history of the March on Washington and other key civil rights events.
*Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.