At least 300 people joined a march in Eugene in solidarity with the 2020 March on Washington on Friday. The event joined similar marches across the country, all of which were held to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington.
Speakers outside the federal courthouse spoke about the centuries long fight for racial justice and reflected on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
It's the march where Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech outside the Washington Monument to a crowd of about 250,000 people.
Mark Harris, a local historian, told the crowd in Eugene Friday evening that people often gloss over King’s metaphor of the bounced check.
The following is an excerpt from from Martin Luther King’s August 28, 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech:
So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was the promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
“It is so much easier to talk about ‘the Dream’ than the check bounced,” Harris said. “Pay the money that you promised us in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.”
Harris went on to discuss racism in Oregon and Eugene. He talked about housing and job discrimination, Sundown laws, and unfair policing for Black people and people of color.
“Oregon is a southern state in the Northwest, a perfect place to study institutional racism from the inside,” he said.
Following Harris was a speech given by Betty Snowden. She called attention to police violence against Black people.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of watching these horror movies of our Black men being murdered,” Snowden shouted. “I am tired of watching and hearing Black women being killed. I’m tired and we should all be tired on this day.”
Snowden called for attendees to demand change without settling for small gestures. She also voiced her frustration with people who try to justify police violence against Black people. She referenced recent discourse on the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“You know when anything comes up about a Black man being murdered, or whatever ‘Well you know he was a criminal!’ Snowden said. “What are you talking about, most of our police are criminals!” she said.
Snowden demanded sweeping police reform and said it’s not enough to simply paint “Black Lives Matter” across a street.
“We need the reform that we come up with, to let them know this is what’s needed because I don’t want to see anybody else on another Black man’s neck. I’m tired of it, I am tired of it, I’m tired of crying about it, I’m tired of shouting about it, I am tired of it.”
Snowden closed out her speech by rallying the attendees to vote in the upcoming election. The event concluded with a march through downtown Eugene that ended before 9 pm.
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