I often reflect these days on where we are today and how we are progressing in our work for human rights.
My participation in the civil rights movement under the leadership of the late Clara Luper prepared me for life. His leadership in the civil rights movement in Oklahoma was practiced throughout the country. We prayed at every event, and we continue to pray now for what is happening in our country today.
I participated in the March on Washington, August 28, 1963, to hear the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech. At that time, I was only 16, and on January 12, 2022, I celebrated my 75th birthday, only to find myself questioning our progress or lack thereof 59 years later. The mission in the 1960s was to fight for equality for all, regardless of race, creed or color. Today, we continue to fight for this equality.
We always address the same issues: right to vote, jobs, education, housing, etc. People of color continue to fight for equality and fairness. When we witnessed the election of our first African American President of the United States in Barack Obama, I thought maybe we could experience equality for all mankind. But having an African-American president hasn’t made racial issues go away. We faced more hate and bigotry. We realized that we still had work to do to improve race relations in this country.
Going back to 1963, to that historic moment, I know King and Luper’s dreams have yet to be realized. It will take each of us to make the dream a reality. We must eliminate racism and segregation in all their forms.
We see our democracy threatened, and we must conclude that we are all citizens of this United States; therefore, we have the right to fight for equality and fairness for all.
I hope this generation will use our non-violent approach as a model to keep moving forward. I was encouraged by the diversity of race, ethnicity and social origin of the current movement of protest against racism and bigotry. We children of the first civil rights movement now say that although we started with the civil rights movement, we are now fighting for the human rights movement!
The theme song, “We Shall Overcome”, influences my thinking and acting because I have to believe “Deep In My Heart, I Do Believe, We Shall Overcome Someday”.
Joyce Henderson is a civil rights activist and educator.