Editorial of The New York Sun | August 28, 2010
The speeches were not incendiary, for the movement is not basically political. The deep feeling present came of itself from the crowd. The spontaneity of the marching, the emotional reaction to the singing, the quiet fellowship of the audience provided evidence; the profound devotion to this most sincerely embraced of all causes was obvious. If the democratic system is to be workable we must come back to this deep, non-political popular feeling as the primary sovereignty. The legislature of the nation can never lead the people; it would pervert democracy if it did. The noble spirit of the March is inescapable and its manifestations must eventually be found in Congress.
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As Glenn Beck was preparing to convene today his march on Washington to restore America’s honor, we browsed through newspaper archives and read coverage of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that took place on the same day 47 years ago. There was much inspiring comment at the time, including an editorial in the New York Times. But we found none that made the point better than the sentences above, which are from the coverage of the march in a tiny newspaper, called the Forum, then published at Massachusetts by the editor who now conducts the New York Sun.
Their author, Andrew Kull, then a high school student, has been one of our own inspiriters ever since. He went on to a career as a professor of law, during which he wrote a classic book, “The Color-Blind Constitution.” We are struck, reflecting on the march that is taking place today, by the similarity of themes. There is a sense now, as there was then, marked not only in Professor Kull’s piece but also back then in the editorial of the New York Times, that Congress had become, if not irrelevant, then laggard and that something larger and deeply American was afoot.
Back then, the Times pointed out that the House Judiciary Committee, which could have been responding to the March for Jobs and Freedom by dealing with the Kennedy Administration’s civil rights bill, was on recess. “Congressmen say nothing much has changed in their evaluation of the bill,” the Times wrote, “and few display any heightened sense of urgency.” Professor Kull reported that but 150 of 537 congressmen had attended the march. “The reaction from the Capitol seemed almost oblivious to the demonstration,” he wrote. It would take Kennedy’s assassination and the rise of Lyndon Johnson and a coalition of forces by more than 100 civil rights and labor groups to gain passage of the Civil Rights Act.
Against such titanic events there is, among the elites today, a certain amount of sneering at the Beck event. “It is a farce of an event in the way the bookish Karl Marx meant it,” wrote one columnist of the Daily Beast. “‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.’” And it is true that Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin will be standing where giants once stood — King, for sure, but not only King. Speakers in 1963 included Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality and John Lewis, the most radical of the group in 1963, and a figure who may be even greater than any of them, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
But we are not inclined to join those who sneer at the event unfolding today — and for the reasons that Professor Kull marked so long ago. Say what one will about Mr. Beck and Mrs. Palin, it is no small thing to draw 100,000 people to a march on Washington. That they are conservative leaders who are reaching for the symbolism of Martin Luther King can attest only to his historical triumph. They may not share the socialism of, say, Randolph. But the millions Mr. Beck and Mrs. Palin have inspired, they, too, are part of what Mr. Kull called “this deep, non-political popular feeling” that is the “primary sovereignty” in America.
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As we sat down to write this editorial, we put in a phone call to two figures of the civil rights movement we admire, Norman and Velma Hill, and found them at their apartment in Manhattan. An aide at the Congress of Racial Equality, he had been the staff coordinator of the march in 1963. When King spoke of his dream, Norman Hill was standing there with him. Mr. Hill went on to run the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Neither of them is a partisan of Mr. Beck or Mrs. Palin. They feel Mr. Beck made a mistake in setting his event for the anniversary of the 1963 march. But they comprehend that the desperation today is not only among the poor but also the middle class. What they rue today is not only the lack of attention to the question of jobs but also the polarization in our politics, on the left and right. By our lights a restoration of employment in this country is not unrelated to the restoration of for which the thousands are marching in Washington today, and we will see what a recalcitrant Congress will do about both after the popular sovereignty asserts itself in November.
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