Commemorating the March on Washington

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Aug. 28, 1963. (AP Photo, File)

Remarks by
Ambassador Francisco O. Mora

Thank you very much.  It is a great honor to be here today, and I thank the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity for all its hard work pulling this event together.  

Today we commemorate the words and actions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his calls for racial equality and dignity for all people and, of course, his movement to end segregation and counter prejudice in the United States, and throughout the world.  

In his life, Dr. King developed close connections throughout the Americas – visiting Argentina, the Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Jamaica, Mexico, and Venezuela.  Bahamians proudly point out that King wrote his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech while visiting their country in 1965, and on a return trip in 1968 he wrote his “Sanitation Workers Speech.”  

 And yet, it is unfortunate that some 60 years later, the United States – like most other countries – is still struggling to end discrimination and intolerance and continues to witness hate crimes against people of African descent.   

My government acknowledges that systemic racism and white supremacy are ugly poisons that have long plagued the United States.  And we are committed to dismantling discrimination in our country.  Because, as Maya Angelou once said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” 

Colleagues, as many of you are aware, the United States has made racial justice and equity an urgent priority: promoting it across the federal government, making it central to domestic policies and programs, and weaving it into our foreign policy – including our engagement here at the OAS and at the United Nations.  

Last year, the United States strongly supported the creation of the UN Permanent Forum for People of African Descent because we recognize the need to get at the root of the challenges and address structural racism.   

The United States is committed to advancing equity, racial justice, and opportunity for Black Americans here at home, as well as for people of African descent, Indigenous Peoples, and members of other marginalized communities around the region, as we continue striving to realize America’s original promise and face up to its original sin.   

President Biden is building a federal government that looks like America, appointing Black Americans to key positions in his Administration, including the first ever Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice Desirée Cormier-Smith.  I am pleased Desirée is joining us today and thank her for her service to promote these issues regionally and globally.   

Furthermore, while the U.S. government hasn’t always gotten it right, our civil society has always been a source of pride and inspiration for oppressed people around the world.  The United States has a robust and diverse civil society that calls us to task, with whom we at the U.S. Mission and the State Department regularly engage.   

Colleagues, the United States was founded on an idea: that we are all created equal, and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity throughout our lives.  It is a promise we have never fully lived up to, but one that we have never, ever walked away from.   

The long shadows of slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining — and the blight of systemic racism that still diminishes our nation today — hold America back from reaching its full promise and potential.  But by facing those injustices openly and honestly and working together as one people to deliver on America’s promise, we become a stronger nation — a more perfect version of ourselves.  

We are a multicultural society, and one of the best ways for us to honor those who were enslaved is to spread awareness of their struggle, recognize the indispensable contributions made by people of African descent to build and develop our country, and to celebrate also the culture and traditions of the African diaspora.  On August 31st, we have another opportunity for this reflection during the International Day for People of African Descent. 

As Frederick Douglass – the committed abolitionist, intellectual, and diplomat – taught us: “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.”  Douglass served as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, and in that role he embraced Inter-American cooperation coupled with effective and egalitarian development.  The need for this cooperation in our region remains urgent, and nowhere more so than in Haiti today.  

 We also know that, despite all of the progress made in my country and throughout the region, inequality still remains one of the most pressing and shared challenges of our time.  Unequal access to resources fueled by systemic discrimination not only harms individuals, but also slows our collective development. 

Simply put: when we lift each other up, we are all lifted up.  As Dr. King put it so well: “We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” 

To this point: achieving racial equity and support for underserved communities cannot be a one-off project.  It must be a multi-generational commitment, and it must remain the responsibility of all governments across the Americas.  Through this work, we can bridge the gap between the world we see and the inclusive future we all seek.   

This is why we are committed to following up on the outcomes of last year’s Social Development Ministerial in the Dominican Republic; the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection; and the 2022 OAS General Assembly’s “Declaration of Lima;” and why we support the ongoing work of the Inter-American Commission on Women, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity — and serve as a proud member of the OAS core groups on disability and LGBTI rights. 

On this, I would be remiss if I did not recognize an indispensable force behind the Civil Rights Movement and the chief organizer of the March on Washington — Bayard Rustin.  An openly gay man, Rustin was synonymous with the Movement for the hundreds of thousands who were bused to Washington – organizing the March in an eight-week period, without cell phones, without email, without faxes.  

 The idea that all people should have what they need to live further motivated The Poor People’s Campaign, organized in 1968 by Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and carried out under the leadership of Ralph Abernathy in the wake of King’s assassination that April. 

Here in the Inter-American System, the ongoing desire for economic justice and equitable social development is reaffirmed in our various human rights conventions and in the second clause of the  Democratic Charter, which informs so much of our work here at the OAS.  It states that: “Democracy is essential for the social, political, and economic development of the peoples of the Americas.” 

This continues to ring true today, because it commits the Americas to advance a development model which is democratic and asserts that development in its truest forms can only happen through democratic processes. 

 So, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington this week, let us all recommit to fight for the equity, opportunity, and dignity to which every human being is due in equal measure.   

It is a call Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made to us all and even now, 60 years later, it is a call we must all strive to achieve in all our countries.   

I look forward to the discussion today and thank all the speakers for their valuable contributions to make this event a success.   

Thank you very much. The march for justice and equality continues, and we are all are active participants in it.