The 2013 National Black History Theme is “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington.” The annual theme is developed by The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the founders of Black History Month.
Background information about the association, themes and study materials are available for youth at asalh.org/blackhistorythemes.html.
According to historian and ASALH President Daryl Michael Scott, a professor at Howard University, “the themes reflect changes in how people of African descent in the United States have viewed themselves, the influence of social movements of racial ideologies, and the aspirations of the black community.”
This year’s theme combines two milestones, the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington.
At the White House, President Barack Obama proclaimed Jan. 1, 2013, “ the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.” He spoke of the actions of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president, who during the Civil War courageously declared that “all persons held as slaves” in rebellious areas “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Lincoln then issued the proclamation that “lent new moral force to the war by making it a fight not just to preserve, but also to empower. Every battle became a battle for liberty itself. Every struggle became a struggle for equality.”
A century after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, in 1963, the struggle for equality manifested into the March On Washington, a rally for jobs and freedom. It was initiated by black labor leader A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, president of the Negro American Labor Council, and vice president of the AFL-CIO. The mobilization and logistics of the march was handled by Bayard Rustin. The coalition of organizers included James Farmer (president of the Congress of Racial Equality), John Lewis (chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Martin Luther King Jr. (president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), Roy Wilkins (president of the NAACP), and Whitney Young (president of the National Urban League).
On Aug. 28, 1963, empowered by the will to make change, an estimated 250,000 came by buses and trains representing nearly every state and travelling thousands of miles despite threats of violence. They gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial protesting racial discrimination and showing support for major civil rights legislation that was pending in Congress. The demand was for equal justice for all citizens under the law.
This was the biggest political demonstration ever staged in the United States. King’s uplifting speech, “I Have A Dream,” will be forever remembered especially by those children and youth who were present. They were eyewitnesses, too. Now as adults they have the opportunity and responsibility to share their first-hand experiences about this monumental event that helped change the course of history. Their perspectives, reflections and definitions of themselves must be recorded. This is a call for action.
The Black Archives would like to hear from South Floridians who participated in the March on Washington or other watershed moments in the Civil Rights Movement so we can record your experiences. If you are interested, contact us at 305-636-2390.