Remembering 50 years after the March on Washington

By WEEK Producer

August 25, 2013 Updated Aug 26, 2013 at 3:01 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Several Peorians are in the Nation's capitol this weekend for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Here at home, activists say the civil rights movement is still very relevant today.

For those who participated in the 1963 March on Washington, it is easy, but sometimes painful to remember why they came.

"I remember the water company not having any blacks, and I remember them saying we're not hiring any," said Lorene King.

When pictures were in black and white, and seemingly so was everything else.

"I remember in my High School for instance there could only be two black players on the basketball team. I found that very upsetting because we kept losing and we had some good players who weren't allowed to play,” said Dr. Wayne Evans, Bradley sociologist. “So I organized a church league team and we beat the High School basketball team which created all kinds of problems."

Problems that required action from activists like Harry Sephus and the legendary John Gwynn.

"I remember us sitting on the sidewalk in front of CILCO when it was still open to the public,” said Lorene King. “They had a retail business, they were selling appliances, so I remember sitting on the sidewalk in the summer, and it was probably already 90 degrees and we were doing a sit in and they turned the steam heat on us they used to melt the snow in the summer.

Fifty years later, the seeds of activism bear fruit. A black President is in the White House, and there is progress in many professions. But Bradley Sociologist Dr. Wayne Evans says at least two major obstacles have stifled that progress. One involves the swelling of prisons with non-violent drug offenders.

"As I tell my students, if we enforce drug laws on campus the way we do black areas, we'd reduce our student population a whole lot," said Dr. Wayne Evans, Bradley sociologist.

The other he says is a lack of activism on the part of everyday people, who don't see a need to take up the cause of social equality.

"In other words, I may not personally harbor any bigotry against anybody, but I benefit from being a white male in a white controlled society, and part of the privilege is I don't have to look at that," Evans said.

"Because they didn't experience it they don't think it's important, so it's up to us who have experienced it to teach them," King said.

Many scholars agree that Dr. King had no delusions about solving 400 years of inequality in 50 years.

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