All Roads Leading to D.C.: March on Washington This Weekend Reminiscent of 1963
By Hazel Trice Edney
When more than 250,000 people convened on the Washington Mall on August 28, 1963, six million people were unemployed, 22 million Americans living in poverty, voting rights for Blacks were barely-existent and the profiling of African-Americans, still dealing with vestiges of Jim Crow, was rampant.
In comparison, 50 years later, 12 million people are unemployed; 60 million Americans live in poverty, voting rights gained as a result of the march are now under attack, and the Trayvon Martin case has once again highlighted the stereotyping and profiling of African-Americans who are often labeled suspicious or otherwise just because of the color of their skin.
Therefore, as thousands reconvene this Saturday, August 24, for the 50th anniversary commemoration, called the “National Action to Realize the Dream” is expected to outline an agenda for a 21st century civil rights movement. Despite clear gains, overwhelming statistics conclude that the famous “content of their character” instead of the “color of their skin” hope expressed in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech remains elusive at best. This is the reason that the string of anniversary activities are focused on what some posters are calling “unfinished business”.
“The exact quote from A. Philip Randolph was that America could not work if six million Americans are unemployed. Okay, well, we’ve got twelve million Americans unemployed – and that’s the official number,” says economist Bill Spriggs, of the AFL-CIO. “If six million people are unemployed and 250,000 people show up when the public policy statement and the position of [President John F. Kennedy] was I am going to stimulate the economy to do whatever it takes to get the unemployment rate down to 4 percent and you currently have a President who hasn’t said anything close to that, then how many people are supposed to be in the street?”
That remains to be seen on Saturday as the vast majority of those 12 million unemployed people are African-Americans, whose 12.5 percent unemployment rate appears to be dropping; yet remains consistently twice that of Whites.
Labor leader A.Philip Randolph alongside chief organizer Bayard Rustin, was a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. His exact quote in context was “We have no future in a society in which six million Black and White people are unemployed and millions more live in poverty. Nor is the goal of our civil rights revolution merely the passage of civil rights legislation. Yes, we want all public accommodations open to all citizens, but those accommodations will mean little to those who cannot afford to use them.”
That sentiment nearly mirrors the message coming from modern day civil rights leaders who have spent months tuning up their speeches for Saturday.
“Like what Dr. King, Roy Wilkins, A. Phillip Randolph and Dr. [Dorothy] Height did in 1963 led to the ‘64 Civil Rights Act and the ‘65 Voting Rights Act, what we do in this August we intend to help shape and change legislation and the body politic and the spirit of this country going forward…And we intend to address the powers in the kingdom and make change happen,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton in a June press conference announcing the march. Sharpton is considered the key organizer of Saturday’s march alongside Martin Luther King III.
“This is almost like a campaign,” Martin Luther King III has described Saturday’s march. “It is truly a continuation of being in the struggle of organizing communities around this nation – again, not just for this day…We know that in 1963 there were 22 million people living in poverty, roughly and today there are nearly 60 million – unacceptable in a nation with so much wealth and so many resources and so much ingenuity. And the only way that we can change this is creating the right climate.”
According to a press release, Sharpton and King III, will be joined by Congressman John Lewis, who spoke at the 1963 march; Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, the families of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin among others on the list of who’s who among leaders of civil rights, church, labor, women, immigration advocates and LGBT rights movements.
According to detailed information at www.nationalactionnetwork.net, the rally will begin at the Lincoln Memorial at 8 a.m., following by the march to the King Memorial.
Saturday’s events are not to be confused with a second commemorative event on Wednesday, August 28, sponsored by the Atlanta-based Martin Luther King Foundation. The Rev. Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has announced a “Let Freedom Ring Global Commemoration Celebration Call to Action” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at 1 p.m. That event will include tributes and entertainment from leaders; culminating with a “Let Freedom Ring” bell ringing at 3 p.m., she said.
The White House has announced that President Barack Obama will be speaking at the “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony on August 28, but no specific time for his appearance had been released on Monday, August 19 other than the 3 p.m. starting time.
The August 28 events are also forward-looking and underscoring the need for a continued movement.
In a press conference announcing the event, Rev. King said states are being asked to participate in the bell-ringing, “recommitting ourselves” to continue the work of freedom. “Struggle is a never-ending process,” she quoted her mother, Coretta Scott King. “We are still fighting for freedom. This is a continuation of the freedom struggle.”
It is unclear whether President Obama will respond to the specific issues that will be discussed at Saturday’s march. However, because of the looming issues of jobs and economics, the topics are in sync with the President’s current focus. He has toured the country for the past month, vision-casting on the economy.
Meanwhile leaders of the commemorative activities are seeing Saturday’s march and Wednesday’s ceremonies as only a beginning.
“It is our responsibility to challenge this nation,” said King III. “And again, that’s why we will come together in large numbers on August 24. But we will be going around to communities all over this nation over the next 24 months, mobilizing at every level bringing business leaders, community leaders, religious leaders and elected officials together to determine how we’re going to define a strategic plan that brings about that freedom, justice and equality for our communities and ultimately for our nation.”