A Message From Our Director

TT director Maureen Costello looks back on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—and forward.

Maureen Costello
Maureen Costello

It’s August 21. This evening, a service at the Mount Airy Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., will begin a week of events observing the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Around the country, people are Washington-bound, ready to commemorate the 1963 event at the MLK Memorial on Saturday and to join the 2013 March for Jobs and Justice that will end with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday, August 28.

Yes, the march continues.

It continues around the Web and in the media. The Washington Post is collecting first-person stories and photos from people who marched; John Lewis—the only living speaker from 1963—doesn’t have enough hours in the day to be everywhere he’s invited. Memoirs, histories, footage and commentary abound.

"Nineteen sixty-three is not an end; but a beginning."

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here in Montgomery, I’m about to be interviewed by the local newspaper. The topic? How to teach about “I Have a Dream,” arguably the most famous American speech of the 20th century. It’s my own personal contribution to the mountain of march-related information being assembled this week to feed what will surely be a short public attention span.

And I haven’t quite figured out how to answer the question, either, except to remind teachers of one thing:

The march continues.

You may remember that Teaching Tolerance issued a report, The State of Civil Rights Education 2011, in which we took a close look at state standards. We were prompted, in part, by the fact that what most students seem to know about the civil rights movement can be boiled down to two names (Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.) and four words—“I have a dream.”

How can we get students past those four words, past the idea that change happens simply because a charismatic leader makes a great speech?

In preparation for the interview, I attacked a printout of the speech with my teacher tools: pen, highlighter and sticky notes. After an hour or so, the paper was a dizzy mess—gorgeous in its scrum of notes and scribbles, evidence of this speech’s power to make me think.

What I saw was that reading the entire speech is the best way to dispel the notions that the movement’s triumphs were inevitable, that they were easily achieved, or even that the movement is over. King tells us what success looks like—more struggle marked by a willingness “to go to jail together” and “to stand up for freedom together.” And he explicitly tells us that the freedom struggle is about more than race— it’s for “all of God’s children.”

This issue tries to make good our collective promise as educators to do well by all the children in our care, especially those whose race, sexual orientation, mental illness or behavioral issues set them apart.

The march continues ... in your classroom.

Maureen Costello

A map of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi with overlaid images of key state symbols and of people in community

Learning for Justice in the South

When it comes to investing in racial justice in education, we believe that the South is the best place to start. If you’re an educator, parent or caregiver, or community member living and working in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana or Mississippi, we’ll mail you a free introductory package of our resources when you join our community and subscribe to our magazine.

Learn More