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'The Fierce Urgency of Now'

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By Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt, Ph.D.
Senior Pastor, Epworth Chapel UMC, Baltimore

The Fierce Urgency of Now – Remembering the March on Washington

On August 26, 2023, thousands of people from around the nation and world will gather in Washington, D.C. for the 60th anniversary and commemoration of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This has been deemed to be a day of not only commemoration but a continuation of the march toward freedom and justice for all people.

The August 28, 1963, March on Washington came at the height of the American Civil Rights movement, as more than 250,000 persons gathered to call the nation to action as it regarded the rights of all people to racial justice and economic opportunity. Among those who spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on that sunlit day was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As King moved toward the conclusion of his 17-minute set of remarks, now known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, encouraged King to “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”

Much of the world is now familiar with the dream that King proceeded to share where he described his singular vision of the Beloved Community, where girls and boys of all races could play together and go to school together, and where people would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

Amidst the eloquence of King’s “I Have a Dream” recitation, what is often missed is that earlier in his remarks he spoke of something equally as important to those who heard it then, and us who hear it today. King spoke of “the fierce urgency of now,” and the need for immediate action in overcoming racism, classism, militarism, and other “isms” and harmful phobias in society.

Here, King addressed the matter of gradualism and argued for immediacy, and the “urgency of now” in acting against unjust laws and seeking to move toward racial, social, and economic justice for all people. He said, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there "is" such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Earlier in 1963 in Detroit, Michigan, King had similarly alluded to this fierce urgency. He said “But these events that are taking place in our nation tell us something else. They tell us that the Negro and his allies in the white community now recognize the urgency of the moment… And so this social revolution taking place can be summarized in three little words. They are not big words. One does not need an extensive vocabulary to understand them. They are the words "all," "here," and "now." We want all of our rights, we want them here, and we want them now.”

In light of King’s dream and call for the church and society to move forward with a fierce urgency of now, there is much that continues to ail our nation and the world today - including persistent and widespread poverty, inequality, a shrinking middle class, challenges to women’s rights, challenges to voting rights, ongoing wars, global conflict, ongoing street violence and gun violence, an American prison industrial complex that continues to expand resulting in the over-incarceration of Black and Brown people, and disparities in educational achievement across race and class lines.

And so, 60 years after the March on Washington, we might wonder what King would say to the church and society in light of where we find ourselves today. To paint a picture of where society found itself during his lifetime, King shared the story of the Good Samaritan and offered a depiction of the Jericho road (Luke 10:25-37). He said, that the “Jericho road is a dangerous road … It’s a winding, meandering road.”

If  King were here today at the commemoration of the March on Washington, he might remind us that the Samaritan offered altruistic concern to his neighbor, and then he might share insight into what it means to show altruistic concern on the various Jericho roads that we must now travel. He might remind us that the creative altruism that the Good Samaritan demonstrated was universal, excessive, and dangerous. 

But wanting to justify himself, the Pharisee asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) Through this parable, Jesus disclosed his definition of a neighbor. King intimated that a neighbor is “any certain man or woman – any person in need – on any of the numerous Jericho roads of life.”  

A neighbor is Jew and Gentile; Russian and American; Muslim and Christian; Native American, Hispanic, Asian, white, and black. She/he is richer and poorer; left and right; conservative, moderate, and liberal; Democrat, Republican, and Independent.

Finally, those who gathered for the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, gathered with persistent hope for a better world. For Marin Luther King, Jr., Christian hope served as the foundation for his vision of the Beloved Community. According to him, hope is the refusal to give up “despite overwhelming odds” and shares the belief that “all reality hinges on moral foundations.” He defined hope as that quality that is “necessary for life,” and asserted that hope was to be viewed as “animated and undergirded by faith and love.”

Thus, a lasting prayer for us as we remember those who gathered in Washington, DC 60 years ago and as we look to the future is that faith, hope, and love will abide in the world today and tomorrow. Might King’s dream, as articulated on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on that August day become a reality for us that “out of whatever mountains of despair are present among us, there will be hewn stones of hope.”

Mary Baldridge Aug 17, 2023 5:44pm

Beautifully said. We still dream.

Dr. Kent Millard Aug 17, 2023 7:41pm

Dr. Anthony Hunt: Thank you for keeping Dr. Kings dream alive. I watched his speech live on television on August 26 , 1963 as a 22 year old college graduate. It was the first time I heard him speak and I was enrolled in his vision. In 1965 I met Dr. King when he spoke at an open housing demonstration on Boston Commons. When he learned I was a seminary student at Boston University he said: “Mr. Millard what are you going to do for civil rights in your ministry?” I think I said, “Every thing I can!” It was his way of asking “what are you going to do to be inclusive and stand for justice for all people?” I have tried to answer that question my whole life. Thanks for the reminder.

Yvonne Daniely is Aug 18, 2023 11:26pm

Thank you for the reminder and sharing.
Peace Be With zypu

Virgie Williams Aug 19, 2023 2:10pm

Hope with faith that each step you take is made not only for yourself but for the enlighting of all people, and will keep reverberating for the ages to come.

Rev. Dr. Walter D. Jackson III Aug 21, 2023 8:06am

Thank you for your continuous effort to promote the wisdom of the theology of Dr. King, and for encouraging us to apply it to our relationships, and to the ministry of our lives.

Ernestine Jones Jolivet Aug 24, 2023 1:44pm

Well written and thank you for reminding us to keep hope alive!!!

Craig McLaughlin Aug 25, 2023 3:05pm

Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Right now the poor of our nation are rapidly and increasingly being cast aside. Right now, as God’s people, we need to open our hearts and hands to the poor more than ever. Words of faith without action are nothing.

Rev Dr Raymond Moreland Aug 25, 2023 3:46pm

I think King would want us in this hour of "urgency" to do everything we can to bend that sometime stubborn "moral arc" toward greater justice with overwhelming compassion.