Fifty years ago this week, a seminal moment in history was off many Americans’ radar.
This was the era before cable news and the Internet, so the only view most had of the event was on the evening news and in the daily newspaper the next day.
Even then, Martin Luther King Jr.’s address before the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington was relegated to many back pages. Had he spoken of his dream for a more just society before a quarter-million people today, his speech would be broadcast live on every news network, streaming online video and seen by anyone with a TV, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
That half-century span in how news was covered is only one aspect of how different our society was then and now. That African-Americans felt the need to gather in the nation’s capital to affirm their civil rights showed it was a time when such rights were not assumed.
The nation as a whole, and the South in particular, were just beginning the slow move past segregated schools and the “back of the bus” public mentality that had prevailed for so long.
King’s speech certainly laid the groundwork for this vision: A nation where children would join hands across all racial, national and religious barriers and “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
To some extent, we have reached this plateau; our nation’s youth now grow up in a more integrated society than their parents and grandparents, a giant step in the right direction.
It’s clear the United States of 1963 and of 2013 are not the same.
Two hundred years of slavery, followed by a hundred years of Jim Crow laws, then 50 years of sporadic progress have produced a distinct cultural divide. Though our racial tapestries have intertwined in many ways — in pop culture, food, language — there’s no denying that the experiences of white and black Americans remain different at many levels. And because of that, our views of the world have been molded by our backgrounds and experiences, sometimes in ways we’re not aware of.
Achieving King’s vision has never been easy, nor is it a given. Even after 50 years of milestones toward that goal, more work remains, and perhaps always will.
The Times, Gainesville, Ga