Patience Is a Dirty WordRoundup
tags: civil rights, Protest
IBRAM X. KENDI is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and the director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. He is the author of several books, including the National Book Award–winning Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and How to Be an Antiracist.
On August 27, 1963, John Lewis returned to his room at the Hilton on 16th and K Streets in downtown Washington, D.C. Just 23 years old, but already a veteran activist, Lewis was poised to speak at the March on Washington the next day, as the chair of the irrepressible young revolutionaries of the civil-rights movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Someone delivered an advance copy of Lewis’s speech to Patrick O’Boyle, the archbishop of Washington, who was giving the march’s opening invocation. O’Boyle was horrified to see that Lewis intended to call patience a “dirty and nasty word.” O’Boyle called the White House. He called the march organizer Bayard Rustin. O’Boyle threatened to pull out, Rustin told Lewis, because he found the line offensive to the Catholic Church—Catholics believed in the word patience.
Lewis agreed to remove the “patience” line, at Rustin’s urging. But demands for changes kept coming from the white and Black scions of gradual racial change, including U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins. Lewis agreed to more line edits. But he kept the message.
“To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait,’ we have long said that we cannot be patient,” Lewis said that day. “We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now!”
Lewis then exhumed the American Revolution. “I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation,” he said. “Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete.”
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