This article originally appeared in the August 23, 1963 issue of The Covenant Companion. We are republishing it to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
On August 28 some 150,000—200,000 people will move into Washington to participate in an inter-racial march originally planned for the purpose of seeking to persuade Congress to approve the President’s civil rights proposals. The purposes of the march have now been considerably expanded, however, and the estimate of the number of people to be involved as participants substantially increased. As a consequence, the dangers inherent in a demonstration of this kind have been heightened as well.
Numerous religious organizations have given their blessing to the march and are encouraging delegations from their own ranks to participate. While men and women whose concern for racial equality and justice is motivated by Christian convictions and love can undoubtedly do much to provide a needed sense of responsibility to the marchers as a body, we question the wisdom of their participation in a demonstration of this kind—and of the demonstration itself.
The intentions of the vast majority of those who will participate are, we believe, not only good but noble, but it is inevitable that there will be some who will find little satisfaction in a mere demonstration of numerical strength. Under strong but misguided leadership such people could turn the proposed march into anything but the peaceful dramatization of the nation’s concern for adequate civil rights legislation it is intended to be. Were this to happen, the realization of a more equitable social order in which Negroes and other racial groups would enjoy the same rights as whites would be seriously threatened, if not needlessly delayed.
In the few days that remain before the march on Washington we would do well to encourage those who will participate—in whatever ways are open to us—to move with caution and with an awareness of the risks involved. And risks there are, not so much to the participants themselves but to the cause to which they desire to give their support. That the march can be an effective means of demonstrating that the time has come when the recognition of the rights guaranteed our Negro citizens by the Constitution can no longer be delayed ought to be clear to everyone. It should be equally clear, however, to those who are most concerned that these rights now be granted that legislation alone cannot accomplish that which requires the good will of the American people at large. Should the demonstration in Washington prove to be something other than the peaceful assembly for the purpose of petitioning Congress for a redress of grievances its sponsors desire it to be, the cause of the Negro might well be unnecessarily retarded by misunderstanding and resentment for many years to come.
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