The celebration this week of the 50th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King Jr., the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the greatest American of all time in the opinion of many, during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, is already under way.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had the great privilege of having at least a very small connection with that event. In 1963, as a recent Harvard Law School graduate not yet admitted to the bar, I was working in a small New York civil rights law firm of which Clarence B. Jones, one of Dr. King's closest advisors, was a partner.

I played a small, behind the scenes, role in helping Clarence Jones prepare a (successful) copyright infringement lawsuit against record companies which were trying to exploit Dr. King's already famous speech without his permission.

Also, working for a civil rights law firm put me in touch first hand with some of the struggles that civil rights supporters and people of color were facing at that time - not only in the deep South, but in New York City itself, which like everywhere else in America, was hardly free from racial prejudice at that time.

People who were not yet born then, i.e. everyone who is now under 50, may have an idealized conception of the events and background surrounding the March on Washington, but at the time it was highly controversial because a large part of the country was opposed to equality and civil rights for African-Americans and all people of color. Prejudice against Jews and other minorities was also virulent, and same sex relationships were criminal offenses. The 1924 immigration law with its racist "national origin" quotas was still the law of the land.

The FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, for many years carried on an intense campaign of surveillance and persecution against MLK, based on groundless accusations of Communist connections with the civil rights movement. The ACLU many years later, in connection with a 2002 report, called Hoover's campaign to ruin Dr. King "one of the most shameful chapters in modern American history".

This was all, of course, in addition to the violence and persecution, including jailing, directed against Dr. King and his associates by white supremacist bigots in the South, leading up to his assassination in 1968.

It would be a big mistake to commemorate the March on Wasgington now in a nostalgic or sentimental way only. But this is exactly what most of the media are doing now. If that continues, revisiting the March will be a distraction from America's ongoing battle against racism, not part of it.

The 1963 March on Washington is directly relevant to what is taking place in America today. It is part of our present, not of our past. If there is any difference between now and 1963, it is that America's hard right is even more radicalized, more entrenched and more powerful now than it was then.

Who could have imagined in 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was enacted, that almost a half century later, in June, 2013, a Supreme Court taken over by the far right would rule that one of its key provisions was unconstitutional, or that one of its Justices would call the right to vote a "racial entitlement"?

Without the Voting Rights Act, immigration reform would be simply unimaginable today. Instead, repeal of the 1965 immigration reform law and restoration of the 1924 whites-only racial quotas, or even repeal of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship might also very possibly be under serious consideration in Congress and the White House.

There might also have been a good chance that an Arizona or Alabama type racial profiling immigration law providing for immigration enforcement by local police could have been enacted nationwide by a Republican controlled Congress and signed by a Republican president, if the Voting Rights Act had not been in effect last year.

As the National Journal reports in an August 22 article: Voting Rights Act, Immigration Reform on the Agenda for 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, prejudice and hatred of people of color are still active in America's political landscape today.

The NJ article shows that the Supreme Court's Voting Rights Act decision has already been a major setback to the rights of African-Americans, Latinos, young people and the less affluent people to vote. Republican states such as North Carolina, Texas and Florida are already rushing to limit voting rights or purge voting rolls in order to keep them away from the polls.

The Voting Rights Act decision will rank next only to the Dred Scott decision in the Supreme Court's Hall of Shame. The NJ also states the following with regard to immigration reform:

"Meanwhile, the pace of work on immigration reform has slowed significantly since the Senate passed a bill in late June. The House of Representatives left for he August recess with no definitive floor action scheduled on the handful of bills that have come out of committee. There is no pending legislation that addresses a solution for most of the million[s] of immigrants living illegally in the United States.

Proponents of the path to citizenship, who have been actively advocating for an immigration-reform bill over the congressional recess, are using the march to press for quick action on their priorities. Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza, told reporters on a conference call that King's speech 50 years ago resonated with the Latino community. 'He remains a beloved icon to them', she said.

'African-Americans understand the inherent power of citizenship,' said Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who spoke to reporters on the conference call with Murguia and others. Leaders from both the black and Hispanic communities have said joining efforts will make them stronger, not dilute either message."
(Italics added.)

The 1963 civil rights March on Washington is not yet over. If Martin Luther King Jr. were still alive today, he would be speaking out forcefully against the shameful attempts by Republican racists in so many states to prevent African-Americans and Latinos from voting though transparently bigoted voter ID laws and other similar strategies.

Dr. King would also without doubt be speaking out against the equally shameful attempts by prejudiced House Republicans to kill legalization and a pathway to citizenship for 11 million Latino and other immigrants of color.

Today's DREAMERS and their families, and all other supporters of the rights of all immigrants to become full members of American society, are at the head of the line among those who are carrying on the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and keeping it alive today.

Sunday evening, August 25 update:

As if there were any doubts about how much today's Republicans are in denial about race and racism in America, Louisiana GOP Governor Bobby Jindal's article The end of race in the August 25 issue of POLITICO would be enough to dispel them.

Writing about America's racial problems, Gov. Jindal asks:

"Who cares? What does it matter? It's time to get over it. It's time for the end of race in America."

Dream on, Governor. Dream on.

Monday morning, August 26, update:

An August 25 Huffington Post article quotes Colin Powell, who has become the conscience of the Republican Party, as condemning the restrictive voter ID laws that they are pursuing around the country. See: Colin Powell: Voter ID Laws Will 'Backfire' For Republicans

The Huffpost quotes Powell as saying Sunday on "Face the Nation":

"These kind[s] of procedures that are being put in place to slow the process down and make it likely that fewer Hispanics and African-Americans might vote, I think, are going to backfire, because these people are going to come out and do what they have to do in order to vote, and I encourage that."

According to the Huffpost, Powell also reflected on the 1963 March on Washington, recalling times when he couldn't eat in certain restaurants even though he had just come back from serving in Vietnam.

Here's my prediction that Colin Powell, George W. Bush's first Secretary of State, will before long change his registration to Democratic. His current party has little room left for voices of reason, tolerance and reality such as his, as the Republicans' attempts to restrict minority voting rights and to kill immigration reform in the House are clearly showing.