By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
Some roared in 2,670 miles by motorcycle from Los Angeles. Others walked for 750 miles from Milwaukee. By the tens of thousands Black Americans from across the United States made the journey to Washington, D.C.’s National Mall on Friday to pay tribute to the past and, they hoped, lay the groundwork for a more equitable and just future.
They came to honor the sacrifices of their ancestors and to demand justice in the name of their children. (Pictured above, Alena Battle of Charlotte, North Carolina, holding her son, Tamaj Bulloch.)
“The world doesn’t love them like I love them,” Crystal Lockhart of Chicago said of her sons, ages 15 and three. “The world doesn’t see them like I see them. I have to fight for their lives.”
A diverse melting pot commemorated the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Saying there’s no vaccine for racism and the current moment is greater than fear, they came in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic which has taken more than 180,000 American lives. And they stayed in spite of the sweltering heat that brought many of the face masks required for entry down to people’s chins as the day wore on.
Today, many are still trying to put this historical moment in context. Nearly 60 years after the first March on Washington, the country is living through a long, hot summer bookended by the May 25 death of George Floyd as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes and the August 23 shooting of Jacob Blake seven times in his back as his children looked on. These incidents are among the latest in a long history — and continuous cycle — of sanctioned police violence against African Americans. It’s not coincidental that the march came on the 65th anniversary of the lynching of Emmett Till whose murder galvanized the Civil Rights Movement. In 2020, many are asking how they could be in the same fight for racial equality that their ancestors had endured.
The program’s list of speakers at the Lincoln Memorial seemed a roll call of mourners, Rachel Jones writes for National Geographic, as family after family of those killed by police took to the stage.
The collective mourning continued through the weekend as word spread of the passing of iconic Black figures, symbols of hope and progress, including Black Panther movie star Chadwick Boseman, who redefined who could be a superhero. Just 43 years old, Boseman succumbed to colon cancer on Friday. On Sunday, John Thompson Jr., the legendary Georgetown University men’s basketball coach who was the first Black coach to win a NCAA championship and is credited with saving the lives and molding a generation of young Black men, passed away. These deaths were a gut punch to a weary community.
Despite the stones in the road, the marchers march on.
“We are our ancestors' wildest dreams, women of color traveling across the land of the free,” said Porsche Taylor, founder of the Black Girls Ride motorcycle club magazine who organized the cycle trip to Washington. “We ride to ensure the future of our future leaders. We’ve come a long way but our journey is not over."
Pictured above, Alem Bekeie, Herani Bekele, and Bayza Anteneh stand in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 2020 march. “We’re out here because we’re tired of injustice, and we’re here to make a difference for future generations,” Alem Bakele said.
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Today in a minute
The lost Native American state: Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the eastern part of Oklahoma was primarily Native American land. That ruling should not surprise historians—or readers of this map of Oklahoma in 1890 (above). A Native American-governed state called Sequoyah for eastern Oklahoma was proposed and approved by the region’s voters, but rejected by Washington, Erin Blakemore reports. Instead, Congress combined the western Oklahoma region and the eastern Indian Territory into the nation’s 46th state in 1907.
Thank you, Gertrude Elion: The eventual vaccine for COVID-19 may come because of antiviral technology advanced in 1978 by the pioneering chemist, who battled outright sexism and poverty before getting a lab job during a labor shortage in World War II. Her path-breaking work, unveiled when she was 60 years old, also led to drugs curtailing herpes, HIV, and hepatitis, Patrick Adams writes for Nat Geo. In 1988, Elion, won a Nobel Prize. She died in 1999.
Genocide watch: Although China has claimed it has freed up to one million members of Muslim minority groups, Beijing has secretly built scores of massive new prison and internment camps in the past three years, a BuzzFeed investigation finds. Publicly available satellite images, coupled with dozens of interviews with former detainees, disclosed the extent of the effort. It is the world’s largest-scale detention of ethnic and religious minorities since World War II. The Biden campaign has called the mass imprisonment and forced sterilization of women “genocide,” a term the Trump administration is considering as well.
Questioning TR: In North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a new discussion of its namesake is underway. All sides agree that the 26th president was a staunch conservationist and tourists must receive a fuller history of the Native Americans who roamed this land until the U.S. seized it, Robert Earle Howells writes for Nat Geo. Also in need to be presented: Roosevelt’s contempt for Native Americans and his prejudiced and incorrect view of white Americans as “the forward race."
Instagram photo of the day
From image to speech: A shaman of the Naxi Indigenous people in southwest China, Za Shi Duzhi, prepares for a healing ceremony by reading a shamanic text, written in Dongba. The pictographs act as mnemonics, to help the shaman remember the sequence of events and the meanings of rituals. Dongba is the only remaining pictographic system in use throughout the world.
Related: Save a language, save a culture
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The big takeaway
Beirut today: “I envy countries that have to deal only with the coronavirus,” writes Rania Abouzeid about Lebanon and its capital, battered by the accidental (and massive) explosion of ammonium nitrate on August 4. Abouzeid, in a heartfelt letter from Beirut, urges us not to hail the resilience of the Lebanese as they put their lives back together. “The Lebanese are not resilient because we want to be but because we have to be—in a state that offers us little in the way of rights or services or basic dignity. It’s tiring.” Above, the family of firefighter Ralph Mellehe, a first responder to the fire and subsequent explosion, grieves over his coffin. Below left, UNESCO found 60 heritage buildings at risk of collapse and 600 such buildings affected by the blast. Below right, many modern buildings near the port sustained severe damage, too.
In a few words
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How art changed: For centuries, the anonymous creators of some of the world’s most iconic art followed long-set guidelines in painting ancient Egypt’s tombs and temples. Painters (depicted above decorating a coffin) ofter detailed fish and wheat in the belief they would nourish the spirit of the dead in the afterlife. For two decades, however, things changed dramatically, with fuller human figures and a worship of a sun god, Nat Geo’s History magazine reports.