Leadership Spotlight

The march on Washington — then and now by Carol Fulp

I was a young girl at the first march. I could not have imagined that even more would be at stake 60 years later.

On Wednesday, Aug. 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of the most powerful speeches in American history. His “I Have a Dream” speech was a rallying cry for racial equality. I stood there as a child beside my parents and witnessed this transformational oratory with a quarter million other attendees.

Six decades later, I returned to Washington last Saturday to march as rights gained during the civil rights movement have now been usurped. As a young girl at the march, I could not have imagined that even more would be at stake 60 years later.

My friend Leslie Feinberg and I traveled to Washington over the weekend to make a difference. We are of different races, different faiths, and different generations. Yet we are bound together by our efforts of ensuring equality for all.

King’s speech served as a symbol of inspiration, enabling America to confront racial inequalities. A year later, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which addressed institutionalized racial segregation and sought to eradicate discrimination. It outlawed desegregation in schools and bias in the workplace, and strengthened voting rights.

As a result, doors previously closed began to open. Neighborhoods, schools, colleges, the corporate sector, boardrooms, and other areas started to integrate. The civil rights movement helped propel other movements too — the 1965 Immigration Act, the women’s movement, the rise of religious freedoms, and the LGBTQ movement, among others. While we dreamed it, never did we think that in our lifetimes a Black man would be elected president or a Black woman elected vice president.

Yet there has been a backlash. Some have resisted change and rebelled against progress, for fear of losing privilege. This has resulted in political polarization and intentional dismantling of gains.We have even seen book banning and the prevention of Black history and gay rights being taught in schools.

Congress has failed to take appropriate action to solve income inequality, health disparities, criminal justice reform, and gun violence — issues that disproportionately affect Black people. We have seen Supreme Court decisions that roll back affirmative action and women’s reproductive rights.

And so we marched again. Not as a commemoration but as a continuation. We marched with Coretta Scott King’s words in mind: “Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.”

We marched with a magnified cause with more than 200 different groups all engaged in fighting for equal rights for all. We urged action to win back the rights gained and to extend the ideals that the March on Washington pushed for 60 years ago.

Leslie and I walked with the organizers of the National Action Network and the Anti-Defamation League. As a Black person and Jewish person, we were conscious of the allyship of our people. Yet we knew this march had a larger purpose beyond pursuing equality for Black people or fighting hate against Jewish people. It was about standing up for all people.

And while yes, I was inspired by King’s “Dream” speech that moved me as a young girl 60 years ago, I was even more motivated by how the speech has emboldened generations to action in the years since. Just as King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” decades later Eric Holder, former US attorney general, added: “But it doesn’t bend on its own. It moves because people, through action, pull it towards justice.”

Indeed, with all that we are confronted with today, the only way we can truly achieve equality for all is to bend the arc toward justice, pulling it all the way … together.

Carol Fulp is CEO of Fulp Diversity and author of “Success Through Diversity: Why the Most Inclusive Companies Will Win.”

This article was published in the The Boston Globe on August 28, 2023.