Tired of Marching for What Should Already Be Ours
He said many profound things that day.
He said America had given African Americans “a bad check.”
He said he had come to remind the nation of “the fierce urgency of now.”
He said we might hew “out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
He said, “I have a dream.”
But as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s spiritual heirs prepare to commemorate his great oration and the 1963 March on Washington this Saturday on their 58th anniversary, a case can be made that the words most appropriate to the occasion come not from anything he said that day but rather from a speech three years later. This was in Chicago in the summer of 1966, during a series of protests against housing discrimination.
“I’m tired of marching,” he confessed. “Tired of marching for something that should’ve been mine at birth.”
These were not among the great eloquent words by which King is remembered — one doubts they are carved on any stone monuments — yet they fit this particular moment. And if you wonder what moment that might be, consider that Saturday’s demonstrations aren’t just about commemoration, but also an urgent protest demanding that Congress pass legislation to protect African-American voting rights.
And then consider what a disheartening sentence that is in 2021. You’d think that fight was won long ago. And in a sense, it was. It was won in 1870 with ratification of the 15th Amendment. It was won in 1915 when the Supreme Court struck down the so-called “grandfather clause.” It was won in 1965 with passage of the Voting Rights Act. Now we are required to win it yet again, eight years after the Supreme Court tore the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, with gleeful Republicans passing new laws designed to suppress the Black vote.
Progress shadowed by setback. Dreams deferred. It is the story of our lives.