Celebrate the march that changed America

T. Mychael Rambo

“One hundred years (after the Emancipation Act), the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. … Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
— Martin Luther King

Fifty years ago on Aug. 28, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister with a Ph.D. in theology, led a peaceful march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial and gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech calling for jobs and for justice for all people. At that celebration, Rosa Parks, Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle and Roy Wilkins were among the many speakers while singers Mahalia Jackson, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Marion Anderson and Peter, Paul and Mary entertained the monumental crowd of 200,000 to 300,000 people who came from all over the country.

So on Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Ramsey County Library in Roseville, actor/vocalist T. Mychael Rambo and musicians Patty Lacy-Aiken & friends will mark the 50th anniversary of Kings march through songs and stories. The goal is the same: to bring people of all colors and walks of life together to focus on the solidarity of the community and justice for all, Rambo said.

Songs and speeches

The Roseville Library event will include Rambo giving part of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech along with some historical context about the movement up the point of the March on Washington, and he will reflect upon where we are today because of the movement, said producer Lee Engle.

With back up, he will sing “Keep Your Eyes open,” “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” and “If I Had a Hammer.”

Patricia & Legacy of Sounds will sing spirituals/freedom songs and contemporary songs, including  “Woke up This Morning,”  “Oh Freedom,” “Amazing Grace,” “Blowing in the wind,” “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “Precious Lord,” Engele added.

The march continues

Separate bathrooms, drinking fountains, sections of the bus and restaurants for blacks and whites were the rule in the South before the march. Schools and housing were segregated and unequal. Birmingham, Ala. in 1960 was 40 percent black but had no black police officers, firefighters, sales clerks in department stores, bus drivers, bank tellers or store cashiers. Black secretaries could not work for white professionals. Jobs for blacks were limited to manual labor in the steel mills, household service, yard maintenance or in black neighborhoods.

The unemployment rate for blacks was two and a half times higher than for whites, and their average income was less than half that of whites. Only 10 percent of the city’s black population was registered to vote. The KKK was active. There were race riots and a black church was bombed. So was King’s hotel room.

At one point, King was jailed and put in solitary confinement.

“There will be neither rest nor tranquillity in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights,” King said at the march. “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

Kings march on Washington and his “I Have a Dream” speech urging justice and equality for all were effective in many ways. A year later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the following year, the Voting Rights Act to prevent barriers to voting. King won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for promoting peaceful protests against racial injustice.

Rambo says about the library event, “I encourage people to come out for the performance,” adding their intent is to energize people to build a stronger community and world and to all live together. “People need to see each other in the wholeness of what we are.”

King, in his dream speech said he looked forward to the day “when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

This program is funded with money from Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Pamela O’Meara can be reached at pomeara@lillienews.com or 651-748-7818.

About the performers  

Performing in remembrance of King, Regional Emmy Award-winning actor T. Mychael Rambo is best known as a member of Penumbra Theatre Company, but has performed in several Guthrie main stage productions and at other theaters, including Carnegie Hall and some abroad. He is also an affiliate professor and recruitment coordinator for the College of Liberal Arts, Theatre Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota. He sang the National Anthem for both President Barack Obama and former President Jimmy Carter, and he won the 2010 Minnesota Black Music Award. He has released two CDs.

Patricia Lacy-Aiken has sung with the Grammy award-winning and Emmy-nominated performing group Sounds of Blackness for more than 10 years and toured for six years as a background vocalist with the late eight-time Grammy Award-winning vocalist Luther Vandross.

Producer and jazz vocalist Lee Engele has performed with combos and big bands at major Twin Cities restaurants/clubs, in New York and at the Twin Cities Hot Summer Jazz Festival since 2005 as well as at local performing arts centers. She has produced concerts and cabaret at several Twin Cities arts centers and libraries.

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