Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

At March of Washington, we're closer to the American dream

By Donna Brazile, Special to CNN
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Mon August 26, 2013
August 28, 1963, was one of the most important days for the civil rights movement. Over 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall in Washington to hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Magnum photographer Leonard Freed (1929-2006) was there documenting that historic day. August 28, 1963, was one of the most important days for the civil rights movement. Over 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall in Washington to hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Magnum photographer Leonard Freed (1929-2006) was there documenting that historic day.
HIDE CAPTION
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tuesday is the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington
  • Donna Brazile: The struggle for true emancipation has been long and arduous
  • She says political emancipation both requires and demands economic emancipation
  • Brazile: In 50 years, we have moved closer to the realization of the true American dream

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last."

I was not yet 4 when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke those words. It has been 50 years. So much has changed. And yet...

I am not a little girl. I don't live behind two sets of railroad tracks in the poor black section of town.

But I'm still a mediator. I'm still an optimist. I still believe in sharing. I still love the garden. So I guess there's still a little bit of that little girl in me.

Our country has changed. It seems almost superfluous to list the progress we've made when it comes to integration and equality. And yet...

There are incidents -- events -- tone-deaf statements that serve as constant reminders of the inequalities and injustices we must still struggle with. These are often overlooked, or misread, or used as "red meat" to stir strong partisans with fear and loathing.

5 faces of the March on Washington

By "we" I don't mean just blacks, or Hispanics, or women -- or any group you care to name. We are in this together. Or should be. Each of us has something to contribute. And each of our groups has something to contribute. But still... E Pluribus Unum: Out of the many, one.

50 years after MLK's freedom call
The story behind 'I Have A Dream' speech

And so I come back to the March on Washington -- the date chosen to coincide with the hundred-year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The struggle for true emancipation -- economic equality, political freedom, societal access, education, the right to vote, etc. -- has been long and arduous. That we have come a long way, we must acknowledge. And the sacrifice of so many who believed America could live up to its promise, we must honor.

As tens of thousands of Americans gather in Washington to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington, we must embrace the changes that we've made together.

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. said the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were "promissory notes" to every future American, but that "America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.' But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. ... So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice."

At March on Washington: The anger, fear, love and hope

Five years later he again spoke of the "promissory note," this time quoting Emma Lazarus: "We are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect." King's last campaign was the "Poor People's Campaign," because, as he argued in one of his sermons, "If a man doesn't have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness."

I think it's important to remember that civil rights and economic rights are mutually dependent. I mean this in two ways. First, as King expressed it:

"Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. ... God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty."

I want to make sure we understand that not only are race and economics intertwined, but also that economics changes the political equation. For instance, the 1963 March on Washington called for "a massive federal public works program to provide jobs for all the unemployed" and spoke of the "twin evils of discrimination and economic deprivation."

The only class MLK ever taught

We see this truth played out in the politics of today -- whether the discrimination is against blacks, Hispanics, women, the poor, elderly, LGBT or any other group. We find that political emancipation both requires and demands economic emancipation.

And economic emancipation, in turn, depends more and more on educational emancipation.

As Lee Sigelman and Susan Welch report in their book, "Black Americans' Views of Racial Inequality: The Dream Deferred," the "gradual growth of the black middle class, the increase in the number of elected black officials at all levels of government, the growing presence of African-Americans in prominent positions in business and the arts, and the rise in the political and economic prominence of members of other ethnic groups along with women of various races and ethnicities, all have presumably propelled and reinforced the growth of more favorable attitudes toward African-Americans."

A King daughter's long journey

In other words, if we look back on the last 50 years, we have to not just admit, but agree that we have moved closer to the realization of the true American dream, as articulated by King: "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT