WASHINGTON, D.C. — About 2,000 people gathered on the National Mall April 4 to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and to commit themselves to fighting racism and discrimination.
The gathering — called the “A.C.T. to End Racism” Rally — was organized by the National Council of Churches and featured clergy from numerous faith traditions, including Catholics, Orthodox Christians, various Protestant denominations, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and others.
“We have for too long lived under the scourge of racism in our society. To begin the process of healing our nation, we as Christians must join with people of all faiths in holding ourselves accountable for our complicity, and commit to righting the wrongs,” said Jim Winkler, president of NCC.
The daylong event began with a sunrise march from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to the National Mall, an interdenominational prayer service, speeches and musical performances.
“We’ve come to unite in nationwide resolve to end the sin of racism,” said Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy E. Campbell. “We must act now, we cannot wait another 50 years.”
Prior to addressing the rally, Campbell walked with Catholics in the march from the King monument to the rally site. Faithful from the Archdiocese of Washington walked with a “Catholics Against Racism” banner.
Campbell also praised King, noting that while the great civil rights leader was murdered, “silencing his voice did not silence his words.”
“Dr. King heard Jesus’ call to proclaim to a segregated nation that all men are created equal,” Campbell said.
Mercy Sisters Sharon Durham and Diane Guerin traveled from Philadelphia to participate in the event.
“When we look at the role of the church, we see the responsibility to be present and call for justice. This is a truth,” said Durham.
The rally was held 50 years to the day that King, standing on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, was assassinated by James Earl Ray.
“I remember that day (when Dr. King was killed) very well. I can remember being in shock and being afraid of what would come next,” said Grace Robinson, who traveled from Michigan, to attend the rally. “We’ve come far (in fighting racism) in the past 50 years, but we still have far to go.”
That sentiment was echoed by the Rev. Julian DeShazier, a Chicago pastor and hip-hop artist who performs as J.Kwest. “The work has been done before us, but now finishing the work begins with us, in our hearts, in our minds, in our spirits,” he said.
“Racism isn’t sad, racism is sin,” he added.
Participants at the rally came not just from across the country, but from Canada as well. Florence Cummings traveled with a small church group from Toronto to be present at the event. “Racism here, in Canada or anywhere is wrong and must be confronted,” she told the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper.
Anita Bonds, at-large member of the District of Columbia City Council, called the gather “an historic and important event.”
“We are not here just to memorialize Dr. Martin Luther King, but to honor him by continuing his work,” she said.
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Szczepanowski is on the staff of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.