‘Get your knee off our necks’: Struggle for justice continues 57 years after famous speech

There’s an engraving on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial commemorating Dr Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in 1963.

It’s difficult to spot on the white marble and so, periodically, someone uses water to darken and define the inscription.

It’s the re-anointment of the civil rights icon and his “coalition of conscience” that steered America towards change.

Demonstrators stand in the waters of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool as they listen to the families of people killed in interactions with police during the "Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" Commitment March on Washington in support of racial justice in Washington, U.S., August 28, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
Image:Thousands commemorated the 1963 March on Washington

Fifty-seven years later, on the spot where his father stood, Dr King’s son, Martin Luther King III, told a modern-day crowd they were still involved in a struggle for justice and his father’s dream had become an “American nightmare of racist violence”.

A supporting cast of human evidence strengthened the message. The event’s speakers included the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, George Floyd and others.

They are, tragically, household names. In many cases, America has watched their deaths at the hands of police officers play out on mobile phone footage.

Their names were chanted and banners bore their images alongside slogans such as “No justice, no peace” and “We will not support your system of genocidal oppression”.

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The bereaved relatives brought a raw and unvarnished sense of loss and injustice to this march, entitled: “Get your knee off our necks”, after the method by which George Floyd was killed during arrest.

Rev. Al Sharpton (L), Bridgett Floyd (2nd L) and Philonise Floyd (C), siblings of George Floyd, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (R) stand at the podium at the 2020 March on Washington, officially known as the “Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks,” at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Image:Reverend Al Sharpton, Bridgett Floyd and Philonise Floyd, siblings of George Floyd, and Sheila Jackson Lee spoke at the rally

Mr Floyd’s sister, Bridgett Floyd, told the crowd: “My brother cannot be a voice today. We have to be that voice, we have to be the change and we have to be his legacy.

“What will be your legacy? Will your future generations remember you for your complacency, your inaction, or will they remember your leadership, empathy, your passion.”

This peaceful gathering gave a strong echo of events 57 years ago. The modern-day movement is propelled by recent events in its determination to re-calibrate race relations in America.

The issue is central to the corrosive election debate, so too civil rights, racial injustice and economic opportunity.

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It was, very much, an anti-Trump crowd that gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The size and mood of the crowd provided a counterpoint to his framing of current unrest as a matter of law and order on which Joe Biden would fail.

This Washington march was a full, peaceful, presentation that called for cultural change to tackle the root cause of systemic racism.

As the Reverend Al Sharpton said, it was time for a “new conversation” in America about racism, bigotry and hate.

It was their big picture solution that doesn’t necessarily fit the Trump frame.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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