Watching the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on television 50 years ago was fascinating for this young grade school kid. I was drawn to the drama of the movement by a combination of circumstances: history in the making, my parents’ admiration for Dr. King, and by memories of spring trips to Washington, D.C. the two previous years.
Wednesday’s 50th anniversary is a humbling reminder of progress made by the sheer determination and courage of the participants. Opening the paper I am also reminded of the constant threat to hard-earned voting rights and other basic freedoms and protections.
The pursuit of civil rights and true equality remain endless works in progress. An extraordinary book, “Revolutionary Summer: the Birth of American Independence” by Joseph J. Ellis, reminds me this is the 230th anniversary of slaves being designated three-fifths of a person for purposes of taxation and representation.
During the summer of 1776, the issue of slaves came up over the demographic arithmetic of dividing the bill to finance military costs. Ellis explains the tension threatened the unity of the war effort. The matter was tabled until 1783, when the slave population of the South was assigned a fractional status for taxation and representation in Congress. Money, power and politics trumping human rights.
King’s dream was up against a grim political and moral reality that stretched back for almost two centuries. The March on Washington was part of America’s second revolutionary summer.
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