Fifty years ago today, the momentous event dubbed the "March on Washington" changed the history of the United States of America forever. Its impact had political and psychological ripple effects on the USA over the following decades.
The event will always be emblematic of the struggle for the human rights of freedom from racism, economic discrimination, and political disenfranchisement. It also immortalised Dr Martin Luther King Jr for his "I Have a Dream" speech, widely regarded as the greatest ever made. That march was the largest civil rights demonstration since the march in Harlem, New York led by our own National Hero Marcus Garvey.
The March on Washington has to be contextualised for its importance to be fully appreciated, for it was the best of times and the worst of times. It was a period of turbulence, pregnant with the embryos of profound change.
The impetus for change was global, as the world had experienced 15 years of economic recovery since the end of the devastating Second World War. But the economic change could not be contained in the confines of the restrictive pre-war moral, political, social, artistic, and cultural order. The old order was contested in every sphere by a wide variety of groups across the globe whose commonality was their youth and their vision for freedom.
It was a time of struggle against colonialism in the Third World; in the Second World the rebellions against the suffocation of Soviet-style communism and in the First World the struggle for individual freedom. In the US, this took the form of the civil rights movement.
The struggles in different arenas interacted with each other, reinforcing the desire for change. Many who led the charge for freedom paid the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their lives, or more correctly, they were killed to stop change.
The honour roll of martyrs, led by Dr King (who wrote his first book while visiting Jamaica), includes countless numbers of unknown heroes and heroines. Tectonic changes took place in the 1960s, the effects of which carried over into the 1970s.
The extent to which objectives of the March on Washington have been achieved is a mixed report card. Blacks are still the core of the underclass of the USA, a status now shared with illegal Hispanic migrants. Blacks are still fighting to free their voting rights from restrictions despite the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
They have a lower average income than their white counterparts, experience higher rates of unemployment and a disproportionate rate of incarceration. Yet, African-Americans are better off than they have ever been and many legal restrictions have been removed. The US, the only true superpower, now has its first black president in Mr Barack Obama.
Still, much remains to be done to attain Dr King's vision. That can be said of most countries, including Jamaica, which realised our dream of political independence 51 years ago. It goes to show that in terms of social, economic and political changes, 51 years is not a long time.
Dr King did not live see the realisation of his "dream", but he did his part during his lifetime. His legacy is not only the dream, it is the example of commitment to the struggle. The March on Washington is an example of what people can do when we all play our part.