Standing in the same spot Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his seminal “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago today, Rep. Joaquin Castro vowed to keep King’s dream alive.
“As somebody of a younger generation of Americans, I want to promise you that all of the struggles and all of the fights and all of the work and all of the years that you put into making our country a better place, to helping our leaders understand that freedom and democracy are prerequisites to opportunity,” Castro said. “I want you to know that this generation of Americans will not let that dream go. We will carry on and make sure that this country lives up to the values and principles for which you fought so hard.”
Castro was the only Latino politician to share the stage with other elected officials and national leaders in the “Let Freedom Ring and Call to Action” commemoration. The ceremony included a speech by President Obama and a bell-ringing in the afternoon, around exactly the same time Dr. King echoed the words which still reverberate five decades later.
The President paid tribute to Dr. King and emphasized how his speech was a watershed moment for people of all races and ethnicities.
“His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time,” President Obama said of King. “We remember how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions.”
“Because they marched, the civil rights law was passed. Because they marched, the voting rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes,” he continued. “Because they marched, America became more free and more fair, not just for African-Americans but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, for Catholics, Jews and Muslims, for gays, for Americans with disabilities.”
In his speech, Castro highlighted the struggles of Hispanic activists in the 1960s. He cited leaders like Gus Garcia, the first Mexican American to win a Supreme Court case, and Willie Velasquez, a Texan who pioneered Latino voter registration drives. The Texas Democrat is one of the youngest speaking at Wednesday’s commemoration ceremony and used his position to call on his generation to carry on the ideals and values of the civil rights movement.
“At 38 years old, I also speak to you as someone of a grateful generation. Grateful for the struggles and the movements and the blood and the tears and all of the work of the civil rights pioneers who stood here 50 years ago today and those who marched on the streets of Selma, those who organized people in factories and farms and those who took their battles to the courts like Thurgood Marshall and Gus Garcia, those who organized people to vote and exercise our rights, those like Willie Velasquez,” he said.
“My own parents in the 1960s were very involved in a movement inspired by Martin Luther King and the men and women who stood here. They were active in the Chicano movement—the Latino civil rights movement. And I want to say thank you to them and thank you to all of you,” Castro added, showing how the 1963 March on Washington affected Latinos at the time even though it was primarily aimed at civil rights for African Americans.
The Texas native is considered a rising star in the Democratic party, much like his younger brother, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro who gave the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Although he was the sole Hispanic speaking at today’s celebrations, he is part of a much larger group of Latino activists marking the 50th anniversary.
Prominent Latino leaders including National Council of La Raza’s Janet Murguia and Voto Latino’s Maria Teresa Kumar addressed thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday to call for greater Latino civil rights including equal voting rights and immigration reform.
“Today, millions of Americans’ ability to vote is at stake, including that of Latinos. It’s up to us to own this moment and do what was done in 1963: Galvanize a nation, united in the belief that every American regardless of their age or race must have equal, unrestricted access to the polls,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino’s President and CEO, in a recent statement.
The events today wrap up a week of rallies and events leading up to the 50th anniversary.