By Stacy Hope Alleyne
[Watch a video from the march in the Multimedia section]
[Diocese of Washington] There was a real sense of excitement as the Dean of the National Cathedral, parishioners and visitors gathered at the corner of 21st St NW and Constitution Ave. early on Saturday morning (24 August) before the Commemorative March on Washington.
The weather was bright and clear and seemed to coincide with the mood of the marchers. But, while some would say that the sense of urgency didn’t match that of the original march, many would disagree.
As the National Cathedral members held their lavender banner and signs up, they mingled with a sea of signs that decried the current state of the nation’s jobless, oppressed and ill-treated. “Justice for Trayvon Martin,” “What do we want…JOBS, When do we want them…NOW!” were a just a few of the signs that bobbed up and down among an undulating sea of people who made their way to the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Many in attendance felt a sense of nostalgia as they retraced the footsteps of the civil rights activists of the past.
Deborah Shepard, a long time National Cathedral parishioner, remembers watching the events surrounding Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement with her grandmother and singing freedom songs. “It was our special activity,” reminisced Shepard. “It’s part nostalgia, but also part of wanting to walk for those who can’t walk for themselves,” said Shepard.
The Cathedral was an integral and historical part of the original March that took place half a century earlier and the current Dean, Gary Hall, expressed the importance of the commemorative march both historically and for our current times.
“Just four days before King was assassinated he gave his final sermon at the Cathedral,” said Dean Hall, “The Dean at the time, Dean Sayre, was very much a part of the Civil Rights movement,” Hall continued. But despite the strides that the Nation has made since the original march, like the election and re-election of the first African American President, Dean Hall says that much more still needs to be done.
“Racial justice is still the single most important social issue of our time,” said Hall. The Dean hopes that just like it was in 1963 that “in the 21st Century, the Cathedral will be a part” of the solution to racial and social injustice as well. In addition to Saturday’s Commemorative March, the Cathedral also has several events taking place on Sunday in commemoration of the march.
Just as leaders of the civil rights movement led the march against inequality fifty years ago, leaders like Dean Hall continue to walk in the footsteps of their predecessors. As long as inequality, oppression and injustice remain, activists, Church leaders and citizens have much work to do.
But, honorable leaders have always been important on the road to equality. Patty Johnson, the Cathedral’s Canon Missioner says that having a leader like Dean Hall, the Cathedral’s 10th Dean, makes a huge difference. “[Dean Hall] really understands and it’s not only the words that he speaks, he walks the walk.” And, as Hill walked in the path that Dr. King walked years before, his parishioners and thousands of marchers followed him as the path toward equality continues to be paved.