Black Catholics will gather in the nation’s capital this weekend to honor the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, part of a large contingent of social justice pilgrims who will descend on the National Mall with Rev. Al Sharpton Jr. come Saturday morning.
Members of St. Augustine's, the mother church of African-American Catholics in D.C., will lead a prayer vigil for peace and justice before the march, joining the larger group thereafter.
Commenting on the Black Catholic gathering, one of the organizers evoked the timely theme of the original march headlined by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“The prayer vigil before the March gives DC Black Catholics, and people across all races who share in our faith-filled vision for racial, economic, and social justice, a chance to reflect on how far we've come and pray together for greater equity and dignity in our country,” Elissa Hackerson, a parishioner at St. Augustine, told BCM.
The anniversary march comes amid various social crises in the United States, including the arrest of former president Donald Trump on Thursday in Georgia for his attempts to overturn the 2020 election. The 77-year-old, who is waging a war of words with his opponents in his 2024 campaign, was also a notable agent provocateur in the 2021 terrorist attack at the U.S. Capitol—just one mile from where justice marchers will be present on Saturday.
This year has also featured a public assault on Black history education in public schools around the country. Since 2021, nearly four dozen Republican-led state legislatures have introduced hundreds of bills intended to restrict teaching on the history of anti-Black racism in the U.S. Several have been signed into law, including in Florida, Texas, Arkansas, North Dakota, Mississippi, and Virginia.
“It’s insane,” Clarence B. Jones told The Washington Post this week, speaking of America's recent descent into renewed political chaos. Jones, raised Catholic, was the principal speechwriter for MLK, including much of the “I Have a Dream Speech” from the 1963 march.
“I’m saying to myself, ‘Are we so crazy? What is going on in our country? Are we going to deny the reality that slavery existed?’”
Jobs and freedom are likewise on the minds of many African Americans, now a half-century removed from the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Recent reports have noted that African Americans account for 90% of the most recent rise in U.S. unemployment, coupled with unrelenting mass incarceration, discrimination, police brutality, and poverty.
“Whether you live near MLK Jr. Boulevard, National Harbor, or the Pentagon, every person should have a safe place to call home, schools that help kids follow their dreams, and a job that pays a fair wage for a hard day's work,” reads the announcement for Saturday’s Black Catholic meetup.
“Greedy politicians and the corporate lobbyists funding them pit our communities against each other based on what we look like or where we come from, making us believe we can’t all have what we need to thrive.”
The main event on Saturday will begin at 8am ET, led by Sharpton and his National Action Network, as well as representatives from the Drum Major Institute—an organization run by several of King’s family members, including his son Martin Luther King III.
Buses will bring marchers to Washington from as far afield as Georgia, where King once ministered, and New York City, where Sharpton and his organization are based. Groups and individuals will also attend from various cities outside of the Eastern Seaboard, with 75,000 participants expected to be present in total.
As the march grew near, Hackerson says she was inspired by the recent National Black Catholic Congress—held in July in the Washington metro area—to gather Black Catholics on the mall as a witness for justice.
“I encountered many DC-area Black Catholics in attendance that shared a desire to unite for advocacy, fellowship, and to share moments of Black joy after Congress,” she said.
“This march is our first chance to advocate for social justice and the Beloved Community that God wants for all of us in unity. I pray that we will find many, many opportunities to come together across ages, locations, financial circumstances, organizational and ministry silos.”
Saturday’s march will begin at the Lincoln Memorial at 1pm. The Black Catholic group will meet to pray at 9:45am outside of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Interested parties can contact Hackerson at (703) 599-0737 for more information, and advance registration is available online.
Black Catholics planning to attend only the march can meet the group at the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro station at 12:45pm. Members of the group will attend St. Augustine’s regular Vigil Mass at 4pm.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.
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