Why the walk was important then and why it matters now.

It was 1963 in Detroit, Michigan, and the city was at a crossroads. Rich with a bustling auto industry, a great spurt in manufacturing as well as transplants from the Southern states and abroad, Detroit and its populace were on the cusp of embracing or thwarting diversity.

African Americans by this time comprised 16% of the auto industry, up from 4% just 20 years before, helping to create a black middle class. But the election of a series of conservative mayors signaled some aversion to full-scale integration, noted author and historian Thomas Sugrue: “Economically, homeowners feared, above all, that an influx of blacks would imperil their precious investments.”

King’s trek down Woodward – organized by the Detroit Council for Human Rights and supported by the UAW and the NAACP – cemented Detroit’s activism and leadership in making change. It is said that $100,000 was raised that day for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Today, with one in three Detroit residents in poverty, an emergency manager displacing democracy, 47% of adults 16 and over functionally illiterate and deep challenges with education, the call to action issued by King in 1963 rings with the same sense of urgency. The anniversary of the march is about recognizing what’s been done and acknowledging the pressing work that lies before us.

Will you Take a Step with us on June 22, 2013? As King noted back then, “For the hour is late. The clock of destiny is ticking out, and we must act now before it is too late.”

SOURCES: Stanford.edu, Michigan; Michigan Library & Historical Center

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May 11-June 21, 2013:
  • Citywide video contest asks high school and college students, “What community-building are you doing in Detroit to realize the dream?”
June 21, 2013:
  • MLK Think Tank for Social Action
June 22, 2013:
  • 9 a.m.: “Take a Step” toward building the next 50 years of accomplishments. The walk will begin on Woodward Avenue near Forest and lead to Hart Plaza, where it will end with a rally.

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