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KIM LAWTON, correspondent: On that August day, an estimated quarter of a million people gathered to support a vision for America outlined in Martin Luther King, Jr’s., soaring sermon-like rhetoric. Quoting from Scripture, King said he dreamed of the day when all God’s children — black, white, Jews, Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics — would be able to join hands in freedom. Half a century later, many believe that day has not yet fully arrived.

LAWTON: Reverend Vincent Harding is a scholar and activist who worked closely with King.

REV. VINCENT HARDING (Iliff School of Theology): King himself continued to move. He didn’t get down from podium in 1963 and then say, "Well, we’ve made the speech, we’ve made the march, thank you very much, we’ll see you in 50 years." The question for us now, on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, is what is the work that has to be done that hasn’t been done?

Vincent Harding

LAWTON: Harding and other civil rights leaders say the Trayvon Martin case, and the intense reactions to it, show some of the work that still needs to be done. Racial tensions flared after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old Martin last year in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, outside Orlando. Martin was unarmed and wearing a hoodie. There were more protests after Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges in July. Yet, while the case exposed ongoing racial divides, in some areas, it has also generated opportunities for new conversations about race.

That’s the situation in Sanford, where the tragedy took place. In the wake of the shooting, some local pastors, black and white, began meeting together to discuss the crisis. They formed a new group called Sanford Pastors Connecting, which promised to promote racial reconciliation. They believe it’s an outgrowth of King’s vision that all God’s children join hands. Derrick Gay, pastor of Dominion International Church, and Jeff Krall, pastor of the Family Worship Center Assemblies of God church are helping to lead the effort.

Rev. Jeff Krall

REV. JEFF KRALL (Family Worship Center, Sanford): This particular shooting, it happens everywhere in this country, but for some reason this one was highlighted, and I believe by the hand of the Lord, that, “Hey look, let’s, let’s make, this is going to be different.” We saw pastors come out of the woodwork who normally would never get together, and I’ve said this before, it’s in some respects, we were almost shamed into action.

LAWTON: Almost two months after the shooting, pastors from different races and denominations held a press conference and pledged unity. They said they would be praying for both the Martin and Zimmerman families.

REV. DERRICK GAY (Dominion International Church, Sanford): (at press conference) We don’t stand in a position where we’re going to take sides for black or white. We’re going to stand on the side of justice.

LAWTON: During the Zimmerman trial, members of the group were in the courtroom, praying for the proceedings. But they say their most important work was behind closed doors, in a series of meetings where they got to know one another.

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GAY: Pastors, both black and white, have said, you know what, forget about our denominational differences, forget about our racial differences, forget about even some of the things that we were born into. How about we develop relationship? You learn more about me, I learn more about you, and we can develop a relationship over the long haul.

LAWTON: The pastors began talking openly with each other about their backgrounds, their resentments and their fears.

KRALL: Very hard conversations to have. You know, in the past I think there wasn’t enough grace for one another. Someone would express their issue or problem and the other side would go, “Oh, there you go again,” and people would take their ball and bat and go home. What was different about this, and it goes back to that spiritual environment that changed here, is when people were sharing very difficult things about hurt, people stayed in the room.

Rev. Derrick Gay

GAY: And as you get them into the same room, people hear the hearts of others and as they hear their heart, then we’re able to then talk about those things, then we’re able to discuss those things, and we really see, as I said, it opens the door for healing to take place.

LAWTON: The pastors here say they are committed to the work because they believe it comes out of their Christian theology.

KRALL: God reconciled himself to a sinful man through his son Jesus so he’s given us the ministry of reconciliation and so any opportunity we can to build bridges and be peacemakers I think that’s part of, part of our mandate. Admittedly the Church has fallen short on this task.

LAWTON: Close relationships across racial lines are still not all that common. According to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, about 40 percent white Americans and 25 percent of non-white Americans said they are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race. Even when the circle was widened to include coworkers, about 30 percent of Americans said they do not regularly mix with people of a different race.

HARDING: Churches have a great opportunity and a great responsibility to find the ways to bring us together, not just to worship, quote, together, but to live together.

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LAWTON: Vincent Harding believes Americans need to take a deeper look at one of the iconic lines from King’s March on Washington speech, when he said he dreamed that his children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

HARDING: How do you judge the content of a person’s character? Can you do that without coming in some way to know them, to open yourself to them in some intimate, compassionate, caring way? Because unless there is that, they are not going reveal their real character to you.

LAWTON: Without relationships, he says, injustice and violence will continue.

HARDING: If we’re going to let color and class keep us from being with each other, then we’ll never know the content of each other’s character and we will assume that somebody with a hoodie is a bad character and we have the right to chase him down.

LAWTON: The pastors in Sanford say they are trying to build relationships that will overcome misunderstanding.

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GAY: To see two men that don’t like each other, one black and one white or Hispanic or whoever they might be, to see them now link hands and come together, for me is the greatest miracle and is a testament to the work that Dr. King did.

KRALL: That’s right.

LAWTON: Pastors here have been meeting one-on-one, doing pulpit exchanges, joint congregation projects and preaching about race and reconciliation. Now, they are starting to branch out beyond their own community. Charisma Media, which is based nearby, put together a short film about the work in Sanford to distribute to churches.

STEVE STRANG (Charisma Media): It’s the story of how Christians and the Church have responded to this terrible tragedy and to racism in our area.

LAWTON: And leaders here are helping to facilitate similar interracial initiatives for pastors in other parts of the country.

KRALL: It’s just not the dutiful thing of we should reconcile, which is an important thing. But on the other side of it there’s richness, there’s relationship, there’s... there’s like man, I’ve been living my life without you in my life? I feel like I’ve been robbed. There is a richness to this nation and, and, and to what we can have with one another that we’ve missed out on. We really have.

LAWTON: Harding says as the nation remembers the March on Washington, he hopes new relationships and new conversations will lead to new actions for justice.

HARDING: That anniversary that we celebrate is not the anniversary of a speech, but the anniversary of a very important point in history when black people were leading a movement to expand democracy, to deepen democracy, and to make democracy more faithful to its own sayings.

LAWTON: He says it’s a movement that people of all races continue today. And he believes, as King believed, that faith communities must play a key role. I’m Kim Lawton in Sanford, Florida.

March on Washington 50th Anniversary

Recent events such as the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent trial of George Zimmerman have highlighted racial divides that still exist in the U.S. 50 years after the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In the wake of the shooting, local black and white pastors in Sanford, Florida are taking a hard look at what more they can do to promote dialogue, understanding, and racial reconciliation.

  • EPatrickMosman

    So the killing of Trayvon Martin,a black 17 year old, by George Zimmerman,
    a Hispanic/black/white man who was found not guilty by a jury of his peers is the case that “highlighted racial divides that still exist in the U.S”. How about the two black teens who shot Christoper Lane, a white man, in the back because they there bored or the two blacks who beat Dalbert Belton an 88year old WW Ii to death? Nothing to see there,no message of racial divide as President Obama, AG Holder, Sharpton, Jackson and the MSM ignore black on white and even black on black killings. Where is the 24/7 coverage by the cable networks of these racially charged murders?

  • Melvin Evans

    I find it hypocritical that, as long as “everyone” agrees that racism was involved in the Trayvon Martin case, then, and only then, can there be any discussion on racial unity. As long as, white pastors condemn the jury and the courts and declare that “justice” was not done, then, we can come together and talk. I don’t believe real reconciliation ever comes with conditions.

  • Kimberlee

    I do not believe the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin was racially motivated. There was simply no evidence. If anything, it should be a case against the proliferation of guns in our country. It was turned into an issue of racism by the media and national black leaders and organizations, who say hardly a word when a black man in New York kills another 17 year old and is acquitted even though the youth was shot in the back. They say it’s because he was arrested and George wasn’t. But the police and DA in Sanford had explained at the time they didn’t have probable cause to hold George, so had to release him. I don’t blame the parents with being unsatisfied with the answer and seeking more. I do blame those who fomented racism where there was no evidence it was the issue. I do appreciate the pastors in Sanford and Lake Mary working to calm the situation, and I respect everyone’s right to their opinion as to whether the jury verdict was just. I myself was split in my heart between guilty or not-guilty, because a youth’s life was lost; but when I heard the evidence that Trayvon turned back and physically accosted George, I could see why the jury had no choice but to acquit. When I then heard an elderly black lady in Sanford say on the news, “We just knew a black man could never get justice out of a jury of 6 white women,” I knew there was racism present in Sanford, but it wasn’t why Trayvon was shot. I live less than 2 miles from where Trayvon died. And how I wish George had not been packing a gun that night, and Trayvon had just gone home and called 911 himself to report a stalker. This is a nice, multicultural residential area with asian, hispanic, caribbean, middle eastern, etc minorities well represented. Our first grader’s classmates at the local school are primarily hispanic, asian and middle eastern, with only a couple non-hispanic white children in the class; she is the only black child in her classroom. No need for these children to be raised with racist attitudes, but people not being perfect, it is probably happening still.

  • patriot_legion

    Racial divides that still exist – recent events …. Trayvon, guns, thug culture …. me thinks ya’ll skip over so much. It’s become a festering mess. I really am fed up with the high level of deceit, dishonesty, and lack of knowledge in the USA today. I believe in equality and tolerance but enough of this perverted bullshit. Now the Muslims are allowed to
    join the MLK event and lecture the USA about ‘islamophobia’! I have a question for all the h8rs out there – which group played a major role in the slave trade of black Africans? Anyone? – why is it I hear only crickets chirping? Answer – the Muslims! Muslims operated the slave trade of not only black Africans, but white Europeans as well. That must be that special brand of equality before the Islamic state! Was that ever mentioned in your history class at college? …. your public high school? Didn’t think so!

  • Kimberlee

    You bring up a good point, patriot_legion: it wasn’t only Christians and traditionalist Africans involved in the Atlantic slave trade. Both Europeans and Muslims had been slave traders for centuries, with Muslims enslaving Europeans and Europeans enslaving Muslims. The first West Africans taken as slaves by the Portuguese in the 1400s and brought back to Portugal were Muslims, and the Pope issued a decree that taking moors from West Africa as slaves would be counted as part of the Crusade effort underway at the time. However, Muslims were also among the slaves sent to the New World; I read an estimate of up to up to 20% of all slaves sent from the west coast of Africa to the Americas, were Muslims. As far as I have read the New Testament and the Quran, neither Jesus nor Muhammad considered one person better than another because of race or color. However, both lived in cultures where slavery was a matter of fact, a matter of life. and for many, a matter of abuse and death. I don’t blame either religion for the cruel and inhuman Atlantic slave trade which ripped 10 million people from their homes and left many of them tortured and dead. I blame greed; inhuman greed…. greed which infected kings, queens, popes, sultans, bankers, investors, trading companies, and planters; greed for sugar and rum, greed for gold and silver, greed for wealth and profit, which cared not what misery it inflicted or how it dehumanized fellow children of God into mere cargo and trade goods.