Today marks the 55th anniversary of the March on Washington that featured the Rev. Martin Luther King’s electrifying “I Have a Dream” speech. That day, which drew a quarter of a million participants of many races to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., instantly transformed the very aesthetics of American democracy.
As a nation our racial progress since the march continues to proceed in fits and starts. Barack Obama’s presidency seemed, for many, the literal fulfillment of King’s dream of multiracial democracy free of racial injustice. America and the entire world proudly basked in the afterglow of Obama’s 2008 election, a victory that signaled — in a mere 45 years — the distance traveled from the nightmare history of Jim Crow and racial terror and violence.
The March on Washington represented perhaps the best public recognition of the intimate relationship between race and democracy during the twentieth century. King himself characterized the gathering as a chance to “make the promise of democracy real” for millions of disenfranchised citizens.