WASHINGTON DC: Amongst the thousands of Americans who thronged to the Lion Memorial on August 27 to pay their homage to the civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was a contingent of Sikhs that stood out quite distinct because of the colourful turbans supported by it.

More than a hundred fifty Sikhs had joined the commemoration of the historic 1963 civil rights march on Washington, “I have a dream”… (Of America without racism and poverty) the black civil Rights leader had said. Most of the Speakers agreed that inspite of impressive studies like the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, the dream is far from being fulfilled.

Like other Americans Sikhs had come from) various parts of the country to join the rally which was addressed by amongst others, Coretta Scott King wife of the slain leader, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, Rev. Jessie Jackson, Sikhs at the march came from the nation’s capital, from the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation in Maryland: Sikh Foundation of Virginia: and by far the largest contingent was that of the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill, New York.

There was an atmosphere of integrated and cheerful brotherhood as the estimated 55,000 people of all races gathered together to pay their homage to the slain civil rights leader and the values he stood for.

Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow said, “The festering sores of poverty, racism, war continue to frustrate our hopes for total freedom for all people.” She said her husbands “dream of justice equality and national unity is not the exclusive property of any race, religion or political party.

The speakers concentrated on the theme of the march “We march for jobs, peace, freedom, and equality.”

Governor Dukakis said, “We must march until we have a justice department that understands the meaning of the word justice, until we have a civil rights commission that believes in civil rights; and until we have a president who understands and respects the Constitution of the United States. The democratic nominee for Presidential elections was repeatedly cheered by the crowds he addressed.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, a former rival of Dukakis for the Democratic nomination and a onetime aide of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his speech criticized the Bush and Reagan administrations record on civil rights, poverty, joblessness and the Equal Rights Amendment, “George Bush is not in Washington today. He must not be here for the Inauguration.” he said.

Bush was campaigning in Texas and in a written message he stressed the progress Blacks and other minorities have made though he conceded, “We can do better… I am running because I can do better.”

Both President Reagan and Vice President Bush had been invited for the march. They sent their written messages which were not read,

Jagjit Singh Mangat President of the Sikh Cultural Society which had brought two buses from New York told the World Sikh News “as Americans we came to honour Rey. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of a racial brotherhood. As Sikhs we came because we find Dr. King’s ideas and values consistent with the teachings of our Gurus and a reaffirmation of the kind of society our religion stands for.

“Sikhism stands for universal brotherhood and a mankind free from rancor and free of any divisions based on caste or colour. Every day a Sikh prays for Sarbat Ka Bhalla.”

Rajwant Singh, Secretary of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation and coordinator of this march said, “Equality and Brotherhood which Dr. King preached are fundamental to our religion so it was a time for the Sikh community to demonstrate that we truly believe in this great idea.”

He added that it is important for us as followers of Guru Nanak, who fought against discrimination because of social economic and religious differences and identified himself with the lowest of the lowly to break caste barriers it was the duty of the Sikhs to honour Dr. King who also struggled for the same principles.

Tripat Singh Chairman, Sikh Foundation of Virginia said, “Rev Martin Luther King fought for the civil and human rights of all the people. As Sikhs and as citizens of this country we gathered to honour this great man.”

Article extracted from this publication >> September 2, 1988