Today, on Father's Day, Fifth Avenue in New York City will echo with the sound of silently marching feet. No shouted slogans. No protest songs. No rallying cries. Just long lines of people by the thousands?marching for justice in a righteous battle to end New York's Stop and Frisk policies.
Silence is sometimes louder than words.
Blacks, whites, latinos, asians, Native Americans, union members, youths, straight folks and LBGTs?all united in a powerful coalition to demand justice and an end to the racial profiling taking place on city sidewalks and streets. This is a coalition forged out of pain but fired by love.
Today people will bear witness to their belief in equality in a profound expression of common humanity.
Brotherhood and sisterhood.
It is fitting that it takes place on Father's Day, since so many of those affected are young men, some who may never be given the chance to be fathers. So it was in 1917:
The Silent Parade (or Silent Protest) was a march of between 8,000 and 10,000 African-Americans on July 28, 1917 in New York City. The purpose of the parade was to protest lynching and anti-black violence. The parade was precipitated by the East St. Louis Riots in May and July 1917, when between 40 and 250 blacks were killed by white mobs.Silent protest parade in New York City, 1917, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
The Silent Parade was organized by W. E. B. Du Bois and the NAACP. They hoped to influence president Woodrow Wilson to carry through on his election promises to African-American voters to implement anti-lynching legislation, and promote black causes. Wilson did not do so, and repudiated his promises, and federal discrimination increased during Wilson's presidency.
The first parade of its kind in New York, and the second instance of blacks publicly demonstrating for civil rights. (The first was picketing against The Birth of a Nation.)
An editorial in The New York Age on Aug. 3, 1917, titled An Army With Banners, by James Weldon Johnson?author, civil rights activist, critic, journalist, and poet, who wrote the words to the beloved Negro National anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing"?described that first march in detail:
Last Saturday the silent protest parade came off, and it was a greater success than even the committee had dared to hope it would be. Some of the New York papers estimated the number of marchers in line as high as fifteen thousand. It was indeed a mighty host, an army with banners.Now, 95 years later, we march again, but this time it will no longer be only black folks silently holding up the mirror for us all to see injustice.
No written word can convey to those who did not see it the solemn impressiveness of the whole affair. The effect could be plainly seen on the faces of the thousands of spectators that crowded along the line of march. There were no jeers, no jests, not even were there indulgent smiles; the faces of the on-lookers betrayed emotions from sympathetic interest to absolute pain. Many persons of the opposite race were seen to brush a tear from their eyes. It seemed that many of these people were having brought home to them for the first time the terrible truths about race prejudice and oppression.
The power of the parade consisted in its being not a mere argument in words, but a demonstration to the sight. Here were thousands of orderly, well-behaved, clean, sober, earnest people marching in a quiet dignified manner, declaring to New York and to the country that their brothers and sisters, people just like them, had been massacred by scores in East St. Louis for no other offense than seeking to earn an honest living; that their brothers and sisters, people just like them, were ?Jim-Crowed? and segregated and disfranchised and oppressed and lynched and burned alive in this the greatest republic in the world, the great leader in the fight for democracy and humanity.
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