U.S. Delegation Marks the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative Lawrence J. Gumbiner addresses the Permanent Council, August 28, 2013. (OAS Photo)
Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative Lawrence J. Gumbiner addresses the Permanent Council, August 28, 2013. (OAS Photo)

On the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech, Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative Lawrence J. Gumbiner addressed the OAS Permanent Council honoring Dr. King’s legacy and its impact the world over.

As many present in this Council know, today marks the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

On August 28, 1963, an estimated 250,000 people marched to the Lincoln Memorial where they heard Martin Luther King Jr. give a speech destined to resonate through the ages. It was a speech that the world cannot forget.

In what became known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, King gave impassioned voice to the demands of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement — equal rights for all citizens, regardless of the color of their skin.

Some historians maintain that King’s speech, delivered at one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in U.S. history, was one of those rare moments that changed a nation — paving the way for a transformation of law and life here within the United States, and indeed in other parts of our world.

Less than a year after the march, Mr. Chairman, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which banned discrimination in public facilities, such as hotels and restaurants, and also prohibited employment discrimination. The following year, passage of the Voting Rights Act ensured African Americans could freely exercise their franchise.

In 1968, the Fair Housing Act sought to remove discrimination in buying and renting of housing. That legislation was complemented by new policies, such as affirmative action, designed to counter the legacy of discrimination.

The dream King expressed at the March on Washington is now part of the U.S. political mainstream. His birthday is a national holiday on which Americans honor his ideas and his memory. And his legacy is commemorated with a memorial just steps from this very room.

Today that legacy will take on an even more important aspect as another speech is about to made by another great African American leader from the very spot Dr. King spoke – and this time the Seal of the President of the United States will hang from the podium.

Mr. Chairman, Dr. King’s dream of racial equality and fight for justice transcended U.S. borders. He traveled the world proclaiming his vision of the “beloved community” and defining racism as a worldwide evil. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

In his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, King stated that, “Among the moral imperatives of our time, we are challenged to work all over the world with unshakable determination to wipe out the last vestiges of racism .… Racism is no mere American phenomenon. Its vicious grasp knows no geographical boundaries.”  Indeed, we know well that the challenges of race and social inequality remain some of the most significant issues facing Latin America and the Caribbean today.

Even on the day of his “I Have a Dream” speech, when he was addressing Americans in particular, King was conscious of the worldwide impact of the march and its message. “As television beamed the image of this extraordinary gathering across the borders and oceans,” he said, “everyone who believed in man’s capacity to better himself had a moment of inspiration and confidence in the future of the human race.”

And so, in honor of every man, woman, and child who left footprints on the National Mall fifty years ago today, President Obama has called upon us to continue to make progress in our own time.  As Dr. King so famously said, “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  Thank you.