As a 15-year old living in New York City, United States, in 1963, Jacqueline Galloway Blake was thrilled when her parents let her travel with a busload of community members to the March on Washington for civil rights. Fifty-seven years later, the educational consultant and radio host, a member of Inkster Sharon Seventh-day Adventist Church in Michigan, United States, marched again to Washington to peacefully protest against brutality and demand justice. Below, she remembers the 1963 march, shares about the 2020 march, and reflects on the role of peaceful protest as a Bible-believing Christian and Seventh-day Adventist church member.—Editors
I vividly remember the details of that historic journey marching for “Jobs and Freedom” with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and more than 250,000 others. I wanted to join the young people bravely protesting and was surprised when my parents allowed me to travel alone with a busload of strangers.
Looking out the bus window, I was amazed to see so many chartered buses on the New Jersey Turnpike, all traveling south. Once amongst the crowd, I walked about the grassy lawn of the Lincoln Memorial plaza and felt an almost palpable aura of anticipation, brotherhood, and excitement. Something big was about to happen.
My parents had told me that some of our relatives from the segregated South would be in attendance. Although I never saw them, I did recognize celebrities among the huge multicultural gathering.
Once the program started, we were pressed tightly together under that hot August sun, but being so eager to effect change, those discomforts were overlooked. I can vividly remember the music and the clasping hands as that hopeful crowd sang the theme song of the movement, “We Shall Overcome.”
We had come, as Dr. King stated, to “cash the check” that had been returned marked “insufficient funds.” Other Americans could vote without harassment, sit in the front of the bus, eat at lunch counters, sleep in any hotel, attend the new public elementary school, and use the restaurant restrooms on the New Jersey Turnpike, but not us. For that reason, I marched in 1963.
Marching in 2020
Fifty-seven years later, I marched again to the same place on the same date. Although the segregation signs have been removed, I feel there are still things to fight for. Nowadays, segregation is more covert. It can come from a person wearing a suit and sitting in Congress or on a judge’s bench, or at a prosecutor’s table.
I believe voter suppression also has a new look. It’s no longer the poll taxes that my grandfather had to pay, guessing the number of marbles in a jar, or reading and interpreting difficult passages from the United States Constitution. It’s not being beaten or fired from a job, as my uncle was, for merely trying to register to vote or for protesting injustices. Today, voter suppression is the watering down of the hard-won Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the closing of polling places. It’s shortening voting hours and attempting to purge eligible citizens from voting rolls.
I feel that between 1963 and 2020, the need to protest persists, as injustice remains.
Why I Keep Marching
The Bible clearly defines the expected response to a neighbor in need, to a stranger under oppression, to victims of injustice, the “least of these My brethren” (Matthew 25:40). As I see it, Jesus’ words at His coming, when the surprised goats are separated from the sheep (see Matthew 25:31-34), leave no doubt about the Christian’s responsibility to oppose brutality and injustice.
In addition to biblical admonitions, Paul's example is a model for responding to illegal beating and imprisonment. When the miraculous earthquake broke chains and opened prison gates, Paul spoke up about his unjust treatment by the officials and refused to leave until justice was served (see Acts 16:22-39).
Likewise, with voice and pen, Ellen G. White supported the civil rights issue of her day by protesting against slavery. “All the abuse and cruelty exercised toward the slave is justly chargeable to the upholders of the slave system, whether they be Southern or Northern men,” she wrote (Testimonies for the Church, 1:266).
After emancipation, she continued advocating for Black lives and wrote “Our Duty to the Colored People,” supporting the missionary boat whose trail-blazing work in the South impacted the formation of a training school for Black youth, now Oakwood University.
The mandate to take action remains, and so, after 57 years, I marched on Washington again. As I see it, the steady beat of weary feet marching for “justice for all” continues.