By Rena Malai, News staff
Washington, D.C.’s National Mall vibrated with energy on Aug. 24 as tens of thousands of people from across the U.S. gathered to celebrate the “National Action to Realize the Dream,” the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
NASW members and staff were among those who attended the march, and some of them also were at the original march 50 years ago.
“Because of its involvement in the original march on Washington, it was important for NASW to have a presence at the 50th anniversary,” said Mel Wilson, manager of NASW’s Department of Social Justice and Human Rights. “We had a good turnout — as many as 75 social workers from across the country, some (from) as far as California, showed up.”
NASW’s significant presence was in keeping with its many years of committed support of civil rights, Wilson said, adding that former NASW President Whitney M. Young — the head of the Urban League in 1963 — was one of the major organizers for the first march on Washington. Another social worker, Dorothy I. Height, also played a significant role in organizing the first march, as she was then president of the National Council of Negro Women.
Kurt Reichert, who was NASW president in 1963, firmly believed in civil rights, and he made sure all aspects of the organization became committed to support the cause during the first march.
“The battle for civil rights became NASW’s number one priority during my presidency,” Reichert said in a statement at the celebration of NASW’s 50th anniversary in 2005, one year before he died. “Social work generally, and NASW in particular, had been responsive to civil rights for many years, ahead of other professions.”
This year, the Lincoln Memorial served as the platform for speakers to address the cheering crowds, just as it did in 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Key speakers included King’s oldest son, Martin Luther King Jr. III; the Rev. Al Sharpton; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray; and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who is the sole surviving speaker from the first march.
“Five decades ago, my father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stood upon this hallowed spot,” King said. “So I stand here today in this sacred place — I am humbled by the heavy hand of history. … I, like you, continue to feel his presence.”
From the October 2013 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story after logging in.