Dr. Kathryn Barrett-Gaines, Adjunct Professor of History, provided this important reflection and photos as a result of her participation in the March on Washington last week. What is your opinion? Agree? Disagree? Send me your message at email@example.com or click on the comment link at the end of this blog.
“I pull my jacket over my head as rain falls on the 2013 March on Washington today. I am suddenly aware of the racist name stitched across the back of my jacket: REDSKINS.
“As I walk toward the Lincoln Memorial, I hope that someone will challenge my jacket. A challenge to my jacket will be an evolution of Dr. King’s dream. A challenge to my jacket will be in the spirit of the day, the spirit of the march.
“There he stands, my challenger, on the slope of the Washington Monument, overlooking the Lincoln Memorial steps on which sit three US presidents, and three Kings. My challenger’s placard reads, “WOULD MLK SAY ‘REDSKINS’? THEN WHY DO YOU?”
“I agree with you,” I announce as I approach my challenger. We stand in the drizzle and discuss the issue. From the Lincoln Memorial, a speaker relays his grandmother’s advice: “You don’t have to believe what I believe, but you gotta believe in something.” My challenger and I don’t tell each other what to believe.
“When President Obama steps to the microphone, he notes what I learned decades ago from a poster my father tacked to my sister’s bedroom wall in my childhood home in Brookland. The poster commemorated the tenth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Because of this poster, I grew up knowing that jobs come before freedom.
“Rev. Bernice King points out to Presidents Obama, Clinton, and Carter that fifty years ago, no president attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Marchers demanded jobs, beyond washing laundry, shining shoes, and porting luggage. Marchers knew that economic opportunity and security come before freedom. A job is release from the lock-down prison of poverty. Dignified work is the way to dignified freedom.
“In 1963, a factory job could sustain a family in freedom. Factories are now rare in the US. I do not prepare students for factory work. As a professor of African American and African history, I prepare students for freedom, by teaching critical reading, analytical writing, gathering evidence, critically thinking, questioning, and doubting. I believe that learning about history creates compassionate people. Passing on these tools is my way of opening doors to the struggle for freedom. These are the tools to success, which begins with not living in your parents’ basement. Whether in a factory or in a boardroom, in a day-care center or in the Oval Office, a job comes before freedom.
“I have a great job. I am free to go the Mall for the Let Freedom Ring March. I am free to be challenged and to challenge others. I am free to publish my thoughts, because I have a job that frees my mind and body. I am free to engage in the wondrous struggle for freedom, the struggle for what to believe. I can give no greater gift to a student.”