History, History Column

August 28th – 57th Anniversary of the March On Washington


Written by ©2020 Sarah Becker

Copyright ©2020 Sarah Becker

August 28th – 57th Anniversary of the March On Washington

“The liberty attained by that soul which is converted from evil by the influence of Divine love, is the only liberty which truly deserves the name,” Quaker minister, abolitionist and Alexandria apothecary Edward Stabler wrote in 1825.  “The difference between this state, which has been the happy possession of many whose bodies were in bonds,—and mere personal freedom, is so great, that the one may be designated as being of heaven, the other of the earth.”  Quakers understood discrimination.  In 1656 Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans greeted the first arriving Quakers with imprisonment.

More than three hundred years later civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream: “Five score years ago, a great American [Abraham Lincoln], in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation [January 1, 1863].  This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice….”

“But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free,” Dr. King continued.  “One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation [Jim Crow] and the chains of discrimination…[W]e have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.”

“We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote,” Dr. King exclaimed.  “No, no we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  Justice as defined by The Oxford American Dictionary: “fairness, a fair claim; the exercise of authority in the maintenance of right….”


“When we let freedom ring,” Dr. King concluded, “when we let it ring from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last!  Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Let us not forget women’s freedom, black and white.  “It would give me new scope to write on topics proper to this age,” Stabler consociate Ralph Waldo Emerson penned in 1838.  “Elizabeth Hoar says, add the topic of the rights of Woman; & Margaret Fuller testifies that women are Slaves.”  Fuller’s 1845 book Woman in the Nineteenth Century was the first detailed statement of feminism in America.   

“I need not speak of what has been done towards the Red Man, the Black Man,” Fuller wrote.  “Those deeds are the scoff of the world…Though freedom and equality have been proclaimed only to leave room for a monstrous display of slave-dealing and slave-keeping…still it is not in vain that the verbal statement has been made, ‘All men are born free and equal.’”  Today’s Black Lives Matter was cofounded by women.

“We subscribe to the doctrine,” might one of our Southern brethren observe, “that representation relates more immediately to persons, and taxation more immediately to property, and we join in the application of this distinction to the case of our slaves,” James Madison wrote. [Federalist Paper No. 54]  “But we must deny the fact that slaves are considered merely as property, and in no respect whatever as persons.  The true state of the case is that they partake of both these qualities: being considered by our laws, in some respects, as persons [3/5], and in other respects as property…This is the character bestowed on them by the laws under which they live.”

George Mason vigorously opposed that portion of the 1787 Constitution which permitted the continued importation of slaves.  “We became callous to the Dictates of Humanity….,” Mason wrote in 1773.  “Taught to regard a part of our own Species in the most abject & contemptible Degree below us, we lose that Idea of the Dignity of Man….”  Virginia “laid plans for gradual abolition” as early as 1777, Maryland in 1789.


Quakers were among the few who opposed the slave trade.  “A Mr. Warner Mifflin, one of the [Delaware] People called Quakers; active in the pursuit of the Measures laid before Congress for emancipating the Slaves…used Arguments to shew [sic] the immorality—injustice and impolicy of keeping these people in a state of Slavery,” President George Washington recorded in 1790.

Congress, consistent with Article 4, Section 2 of the Constitution, passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1793.  Slaves were precious, but only as accumulated property.  As slaves were freed and importation denied [1808], labor shortages developed.

“In the exercise of [my father’s] gift of the ministry, one great object was, to impress the minds of his hearers with the importance of examining things for themselves;—of reading over and over the leaves of their lives which were always open before them,” Quaker and Alexandria apothecary William Stabler explained.  “This examination, honestly undertaken and faithfully prosecuted in that ‘light which makes manifest,’ [sh]ould result in a clear distinction between good and evil.”  Evil as defined by The Oxford American Dictionary: “morally bad; wicked, heinous, hurtful.

“The distressing and disgraceful circumstances of this internal traffic in the people of color in our country, is indeed a trying affair to human feeling,—especially the kidnapping part of the business,” Edward Stabler wrote in 1816. “The scandalous defect of our laws,—and the criminal inattention (to say no more) of our legislators to a subject which is making such rapid progress in the destruction of the character, the humanity, and the morals of the country—is indeed surprising.”

Free black Solomon Nothrup—Twelve Years a Slave—was kidnapped in the city of Washington; processed through District of Columbia slave pens and shipped to Louisiana for sale.  As of 1819 trans-Atlantic slave trading was synonymous with piracy, punishable by death.

  “[U]nquestionably the nature of things must change, or those who thus ‘sow to the wind,’ will for their harvest ‘reap the whirlwind,’” Edward Stabler continued.  “When all that friends of humanity can do, shall be done,—I fear that the avarice [greed] and obduracy [obstinacy] of America will force this great corrective upon them.”

Hosea 8:7, King James Bible: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal.”

“The general government has indeed acted nobly in annihilating the trade to Africa for slaves;—but the same thing is carried on in our own land, and no effort is made to deprive it of even its most horrid features,” Stabler said.  “[E]very idea I can form of justice, of mercy, of righteousness, and even of consistency of character;—is violated by the monstrous spectacle of laws…which recognize the spirit of avarice in one man…as paramount to all the tender ties and invaluable interests of conjugal, parental, filial, and fraternal love in another.

“When I contemplate again the laws which govern the universe (and practically determine the effects which result from the causes)…the utmost violence must be done to my understanding, before it can appear otherwise than impossible that anything but distress and increasing calamity can arise from such a state of things,” Stabler concluded in 1826.

On August 28, on the 57th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic March on Washington, the National Action Network will launch an updated March, the ‘Get Off our Necks’ March on Washington.  Why?  The country still reels from black Minnesotan George Floyd’s homicidal death.  Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and three other officers await trial.  All participants must wear face masks: practice social distancing.   

Police race-related tactics have been a hot topic since at least 1895; the start of the Confederate Lost Cause and Plessy v. Ferguson [1896].  “The lessons that negroes make a bad use of liberty is taught daily in the police court of this and all other cities in which they are numerous,” the Alexandria Gazette wrote in 1895.  “Nearly all the cases before such courts are those of negroes, the parties to which are either sent to jail or the work house, put on the chain gang, or impoverished by fines.  Before the Negroes were freed it was a rarity for one of them to be arrested,” the Alexandria Gazette explained.  Arrests were 53.4% black in 2019.

Mississippi was the first southern state to formalize the Black Code—on November 24, 1865.  The State’s Black Code forbid negroes to testify against whites; to serve on juries, bear arms, or hold large meetings.  Unemployed blacks could be arrested for vagrancy.  On March 5, 1867, Virginia discounted 1,000 black votes.  The Commonwealth was readmitted to the Union in 1870, after accepting the 15th Amendment.

“Right-minded men would very easily bring order out of our American chaos, if working with courage, & without by-ends,” Emerson said in 1864.  “Absolute Emancipation establishes the fact that the United States henceforth knows no color, no race, in its law, but legislates for all alike—one law for all men.”

“Morals is the test,” Emerson continued in 1865, “and it is only very lately that our own Churches, formerly silent on slavery & notoriously hostile to Abolitionists, wheeled into line for Emancipation.”

“[W]e have come [to the Lincoln Memorial] to cash a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice,” Dr. King explained in 1963.  “We have also come to…remind America of the fierce urgency of now.  This is no time to…take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism…Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice…The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.  [Until then] we must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”


Nahum 1:3, King James Bible:  “The Lord [God] is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not acquit the wicked: [he] hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm….”

“America has suffered from…rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading,” President and Quaker Richard Nixon [R-CA] said on January 20, 1969.  “To go forward at all is to go forward together.  This means black and white together, as one nation, not two.  The [civil rights] laws have caught up with our conscience.  What remains is to give life to what is in the law; to ensure at last that as all are born equal in dignity before God, all are born equal to dignity before man.”

How does today’s America—men and women, the different races—define justice, equal justice; national unity and the complex whole?

President Nixon declared “The First Americans—the Indians—the most deprived, most isolated minority group” in 1970.  As a Senator he sponsored a 1951 resolution in support of Quaker Alice Paul’s original Equal Rights Amendment.  Concluded Vice President Nixon in 1960, candidate Nixon in 1968: “The task of achieving Constitutional equality between the sexes still is not completed.”  Neither it seems is the task of achieving justice.  Especially the July 4th killing of 11 year-old southeast District resident Davon McNeal, a black child caught in the crossfire of neighborhood gun violence.

Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007.  Email: abitofhistory53@gmail.com 

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