I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to join hands in a large group and sing “We Shall Overcome” without tearing up. There’s something about that simple song, with its repetition and mournful pace. It never fails to stir the soul with its quiet power, much of which is drawn from knowing that it has been the enduring anthem of the civil rights movement; that it’s been sung in churches, on marches, in jail cells and meeting halls for decades; that it’s been uplifting and sustaining us for generations; that it was sung at the March on Washington 45 years ago today.
But singing it this morning, hand-in-hand with hundreds who had arrived at the Denver Convention Center at 7 a.m. for a unity prayer breakfast commemorating the 45th anniversary of the March on Washington, was moving in a way that’s difficult to articulate. It is, afterall, The Big Day. It is the day we’ve all been waiting for. The day this entire week has been all about.
We, you, none of us can wait. Even members of the press, many of whom have seen more conventions than they care to think about, seem giddy with anticipation. The air is electric. People are embracing in the street and weeping on impulse. It is unlike anything any of us has ever experienced. And the fact that it’s occurring on This Day, this Anniversary, is almost too much to bear.
It seemed only fitting to begin This Day by remembering and giving thanks for that monumental grassroots convention in Washington, DC of 45 years ago. It seemed only fitting that This Day began with prayer. It seemed only fitting that Elder Bernice King and Martin Luther King III were on hand to accept a $1 million donation to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation from the Boeing Company, presented by Corporate President and Chief Financial Officer, James A. Bell, a black man. It seemed only fitting that Atlanta’s Congressman John Lewis and Rev. Joseph Lowery, President of the Coalition for the People’s Agenda, were on hand to offer their memories of the dream expressed by Martin Luther King Jr. 45 years ago and the victory represented by the historic nomination of Barack Obama for president.
Award-winning actors Alfre Woodard and Blair Underwood recited the “I Have A Dream” speech with Blair Underwood sounding so much like Martin Luther King Jr., the room fell completely still for an instant before erupting with praise. And then composer Richard Smallwood struck those familiar chords on the piano and we stood and sang: “We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day. We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are not afraid today. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day.” Some day. Some day? This Day.