African Ancestry Committee Urges Commemorating Historic March

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

Two weeks from today is the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, best remembered for the “I Have a Dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr. To recognize the significance of the Aug. 28, 1963, event, the HNP African Ancestry Committee encourages Province ministries to observe this anniversary “complementary with the ideals of the Franciscan charism,” according to Neil O’Connell, OFM.

“The success of the March, the largest ever to take place in Washington, and Dr. King’s speech, were the catalyst for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to introduce the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights acts enacted in 1964 and 1965 respectively,” said Neil, a member of the Province’s committee.

The HNP African Ancestry Committee suggests that friars in the Washington, D.C., area consider participating in observances of the historic event.

“Friars in ministry in the Washington area may wish to participate in the national observance just as they did in the original 1963 March,” said Neil. “A petition in the General Intercessions, a gathering of ministry members to view the televised broadcast of the Washington March together, the thoughtful use of the assigned liturgies on either Aug. 24 (St. Bartholomew) or Aug. 28 (St. Augustine), participation in a local observance, local ecumenical and interfaith religious observances, and study groups are just some possibilities,” said Neil.

He added: “The national observance of the March, under the sponsorship of the National Action Network, will take place in Washington on Aug. 24, with a gathering at the Lincoln Memorial at 8 a.m. Following, will be a procession along the mall to a designated site for an awareness-raising program concerning recent attacks on voter rights, stand-your-ground legislation, law enforcement racial profiling, poverty, unemployment, gun control, and immigration.”

The African Ancestry Committee welcomes information concerning the various observances, the reasons for the march and its impact in which the ministries of the Province will be engaged.  Neil, who is stationed in New York City, requests that friars and partners-in-ministry contact him at 212-678-0940 or with information.

In the fall of 1963, the Franciscans honored King. The North American Confederation of Third Orders — the Secular Franciscans — conferred its annual St. Francis Peace Medal on the civil rights leader at the Pennsylvania Hotel, near St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City. Roy Gasnick, OFM, who participated in the 1963 march, “played a quiet but important role in gaining assurance from the office of Attorney General Robert Kennedy that Dr. King was not a Communist which, in the age of the Cold War, was a crucial step in clearing the way for the conferral of the medal,” said Neil. The Secular Franciscans are choosing an honoree for the 2013 St. Francis Peace Medal.

Later this year, the committee — in conjunction with friars of other U.S. provinces — will hold a retreat for young African American men. This year’s “Go Down Moses Retreat” will be held in New Orleans. The committee will make available an informational flyer, said Gerald Hopeck, OFM, a member of the African Ancestry Committee who organized the 2012 retreat.

— Jocelyn Thomas is communications director for Holy Name Province.