Statement by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on the 57th Anniversary of the March on Washington
Fifty-seven years ago today, Dr. King, John Lewis, and other fearless leaders of the civil rights movement stirred this nation’s soul during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Two-hundred and fifty thousand men and women, of different ages, races, and stations gathered shoulder to shoulder. They stood on the same National Mall where enslaved Africans were once sold. It was one hundred years after emancipation, but Black Americans were enduring another season of Jim Crow brutality.
Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, then the president of Morehouse College, delivered the closing benediction by saying, “Please God, in this moment of crisis and indecision give the United States wisdom, give her courage, give her faith to meet the challenge of this hour. Guide, teach, sustain and bless the United States, and help the weary travelers to overcome, someday soon.”
With wisdom, courage, and faith, the leaders left the Lincoln Memorial for the White House to speak with President Kennedy about the landmark civil rights legislation they advocated for and that he had just announced to outlaw discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in jobs, education, and public accommodations. After President Kennedy’s assassination three months later, they continued the work with President Johnson, who signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 a year later and then the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The marchers never gave up. Because for every step forward toward the full promise of America, there are very real forces pulling us back — the ongoing tension between the light that stirs our soul and the darkness that stains it.
That is where we are today. The murder and violence toward Black Americans of the 1960s is happening today in broad daylight for the world to witness. A pandemic and economic crisis lays bare the systemic racism that still plagues our way of life. And instead of seeking to heal and unite, too many in our nation seek to inflame and divide.
We’re in an ongoing battle for the soul of our nation. We condemn the violence. We cannot afford our cities and the bonds between us to be burned, broken, and scarred any further. We have to root out the racism, hate, and the vengeance.
As our late friend John Lewis said with his final words, we must lay “down the heavy burdens of hate at last.” We need to treat one another with the respect and dignity that each one of us deserves.
And we must channel the spirit of this day fifty-seven years ago as we’ve seen so many people of every age, race, and station do across the country over the last few months, and again this morning on the National Mall.
With wisdom, courage, and faith, we must not turn away.
We must choose the light and overcome.