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Civil rights workers divided on strategy. New vanguard in movement calls for action, not demonstrations

By Luix OverbeaStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 29, 1988



Washington

The old guard is fading away, as fresh young faces move to the forefront for the civil-rights wars of the 1990s. This trend surfaced at the 25th anniversary ``March on Washington'' celebrated by 55,000 people Saturday. More marches are needed, say civil-rights ``old soldiers'' in conversations about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his ``I Have a Dream'' address given at the first march Aug. 28, 1963.

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But younger demonstrators say the time for dreaming has past. They express fascination with the act of marching, but suggest more attention to seeking economic progress.

March, march, march, says the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of Cincinnati, Ohio, a voice from a turbulent past. He was a black preacher in Birmingham, Ala. in the 1950s and 1960s, a planner of the first march on Washington.

Rhetoric and marches inspire and excite, but black people need quiet, thankless action to make the King dream of 1963 a reality today, says Mtangulisi Sonyika of suburban San Francisco.

Mr. Sonyika was a black nationalist, but today is a financial consultant. He has walked in all three marches in 1963, in 1983, and in 1988, but he sides with new ideas of change.

Marchers joyfully spoke of the 1963 march, when Dr. King told the world, ``I have a dream,'' but many prefer followup action to give marches impact.

``Dreams and marches don't solve our problems today,'' says Ernest Green, one of the ``Little Rock Nine,'' black teen-agers who needed the armed protection of the National Guard to enroll in Central High School in the mid-1950s. ``Black people need concrete steps to implement goals preached at today's march - jobs for youth, health care for blacks of all ages, reduction of infant mortality. We need actions, not tributes,'' Mr. Green says.

``I would march, face the snarling dogs, suffer the water hose - do it all over again if that would change things for us all,'' says Mr. Shuttlesworth. ``But we need renewed solidarity and purpose if we are to make changes today. Instead of massive symbolic marches celebrating memories, we can become effective back home with smaller demonstrations. If 1,000 to 5,000 people to march continuously and often. We could open the eyes of local officials. Then things can happen!''

``Back home [suburban Hercules, Calif.] we forget about reviewing the history that was,'' says Sonyika, who talks bank finances and rainbow politics today. ``We have lost the sense of urgency we had 25 years ago. We're more sophisticated now, but we need the furor and fervor of masses of people today.''

Saturday's marchers were as enthusiastic as they were in previous demonstrations. More of them were young rather than veteran demonstrators.

Speakers ranged from such people as James L. Farmer, one of the ``Big Five'' of the original march, and then head of the once potent Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to Gerald Covell, a student who led the campaign to bring a deaf president to Gallaudet College, a school for the deaf.

Entertainers on program were unknown names, a high school choir and church groups. Past marches had spotlighted name acts such as Stevie Wonder and Harry Belafonte.

Key issues centered around young people - from child care for pre-schoolers to college training for blacks, as well as teen parenthood.

``Matinee'' idol was Jesse Jackson, who ran a strong second to Gov. Michael Dukakis in the Democratic Party presidential primaries. The Rev. Mr. Jackson did not march in 1963, but he spoke in 1983.

People screeched their approval as Jackson told them to ``keep hope alive,'' to vote in November, and as he backed Mr. Dukakis for president.

Shouts of ``Where's George?'' rang out as a Bush-Quayle message was read from the podium. Vice-President George Bush spoke in Texas Saturday.

``We cannot look back or look down when infant mortality is high, when racism and bigotry are still with us, when new wounds are opening in our cities and in our suburbs,'' Dukakis said to cheers.

``We should become involved in the mainstream of business,'' says Richard Barber, executive secretary for procurement of Pennsylvania. ``Our real thrust should be at the local and state levels. And the black church can buttress this thrust.''

Phyllis Stokes, a college student in Atlanta, one of scores of young people in Washington for both the march and the national convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), says, ``The march and the meeting motivate me to retun home and be active in civic affairs.''

``This march tells the new president that we hold him accountable for tuning in to our priorities and our needs,'' says the Rev. Joseph Lowery, SCLC national president.