Fifty years ago, about 250,000 people descended upon the National Mall and witnessed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” On Aug. 24, the historic event was commemorated, and Delaware civil rights leaders say they hope it will reawaken the spirit of change.
Delaware NAACP gathered at Legislative Hall in Dover, Aug. 22, with religious leaders and other civil rights organizations. “We want to right the wrong,” said Central Delaware Branch President Roxie Smiley-Carter.
She said civil rights leaders must take action on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate provisions of the Voting Rights Act and similar issues. “We are the people,” she said. “Let us come together in reason.”
“Our legislators are legislating away some of our liberties,” said the Rev. Michael Rogers, of Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. “Much happened as a result of Aug. 24, 1963,” Rogers said. “There is more to be done.”
Delaware NAACP President Richard Smith said the spirit of Trevon Martin would accompany the march. “In Delaware, we’ve got a lot of Trevons,” he said. “It’s time for us to step to the plate.”
“We’re tired of our babies getting killed. We’re tired of our babies not getting an education,” Smith said.
Deborah Wilson of Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League said she wants Delaware to have a strong presence at the march, and she wants residents to return and work collectively for justice and civil rights. “This is a fight that we must all win,” Wilson said.
Delaware Rabbi Michael Beals kicked off the event by blowing into a shofar, a ram’s horn used in religious ceremonies to symbolize an awakening.
“It seems to be the perfect set up for what we’re doing today,” he said. “Today’s a wake-up call.”
Remembering “I Have a Dream”
Renee DuJean of the National Urban League spoke to the gathering of about 25 people. She said she worked for Johnson Publishing, which produced Jet Magazine in 1963, and she remembers taking a bus into Washington, D.C., to watch the speech. She said people could see the crowd on television, but seeing it in person was a different experience. “Actually looking at a sea, a virtual sea of signs and people of all races,” she said.
DuJean said she remembers people chatting and members of the press asking questions. “And all of the sudden, you heard silence,” she said. “And then the voice of Martin Luther King came through.”
“I had this feeling, just like an epiphany,” she said. “It was so moving.”
“And that will probably be the most important time of my memories, of all my memories, because it hit me hard. When it was over, I was still marked by it, and I knew that my life’s work was going to be with the community,” she said.
DuJean spent 27 years working with the National Urban League. She said other professions might pay more, but no other line of work could match the feeling she got from giving back to her community. “You cannot duplicate that feeling,” she said. “I’m still in the movement.”
“And I will be here…Saturday morning on that bus, reliving and revisiting that time in 1963,” DuJean said.
Diaz Bonville, an activist in West Rehoboth and a member of the Delaware Human Relations Commission said he was just a child when King made his “I Have a Dream” speech. But, Bonville said, he will attend the commemoration Saturday.
“I'm going because I think it's important to show support, to be part of history and to carry out the vision, the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and to do it in a nonviolent way,” he said. “I'm excited I'm going. I have to come back and tell my children and grandchildren.”