“We rightly and best remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory that day, how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions; how he offered a salvation path for oppressed and oppressors alike,” President Barack Obama said today, commemorating Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Ordinary voices were heard that day, too, the president noted. The people who marched on Washington in 1963 “learned through hard experience what Frederick Douglass once taught—that freedom is not given, it must be won, through struggle and discipline, persistence and faith.”
Peter Drucker certainly understood the power of oratory. He lauded the integrity of civil rights leaders. “But perhaps the black voice was even more important,” he wrote in his memoir Adventures of a Bystander. “The ‘Negro Problem in America’ requires a change of heart as much as change of policies, and even the best rural sociology does not reach the heart.”
Voices, on the other hand, could reach the heart. “I was shaken and moved by the voice of Howard Thurman, the chaplain at Howard, the Negro university, into whose church I sneaked whenever I spent a weekend in Washington,” he recalled of the years of the Great Depression. And the radio brought the voices of black preachers to all Americans. “The sheer power and beauty of those voices reached the inner core of one’s being,” Drucker wrote. “And the radio got the great Negro voices, such as Thurman’s, out of the black church and into the living room.”
Drucker also understood the significance of what happened 50 years ago. “It would take a bold man to predict how fast the Negro will gain complete equality in American society,” he wrote in Managing for Results, published in 1964. “But that, as a result of the events of 1962 and 1963, there is a new awareness of race relations in the United States on the part of Negro and white alike; above all, that the ‘submissive Negro’ has become a thing of the past, at least as far as the young people are concerned, is a fact that already happened. It is the kind of fact that is irreversible.”
What do you think is the most important lesson or legacy of the 1963 March on Washington?