Wednesday, August 28, 2013 is the fiftieth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Between 200,000 and 300,00 people, more than 75 percent of whom were African-American, gathered around the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. They demanded fulfillment of promises of racial equality and freedom made 100 years earlier with the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of slavery in the United States. The march helped the Civil Rights Movement in its successful campaign for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It is time to march on Washington again!
The high point of the rally is the now famous "I Have a Dream" speech by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. In the speech Reverend King alluded to, paraphrased, and quoted from some of the principal documents of United States history, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Gettysburg Address. It is time to march on Washington again!
While King spoke to the audience gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial, he also addressed elected officials and a broader national and worldwide audience. Referring to the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, King asserted:
But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.
I think if he were alive today, Martin Luther King would agree, it is time to march on Washington again!
As the speech came to an end, Reverend King declared:
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
Unfortunately, fifty years later, the United States still has not achieved that dream. That is why it is time to march on Washington again!
A number of civil rights organizations including the King Center, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League (NUL), and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute (APRI) are planning an anniversary march for Wednesday, August 28, 2013 that will start with an interfaith service at the King Memorial in Washington, D.C. and include a series of marches and rallies.
It is time to march on Washington again for many reasons.
It is time to march on Washington again because of Trayvon Martin was killed and the state of Florida, which allows untrained, emotionally insecure, bigots and vigilantes to carry and use concealed weapons, botched the trial of his killer. In a case marked by race and racism, the racial roots of the attack were not permitted to be introduced at the trial under the pretense that the United States, including the state of Florida, is color-blind. The American people must demand that the man who killed Trayvon Martin be charged with civil rights violations and find a way to protect innocent people whose lives are threatened because of irresponsible and racist state laws. It is time to march on Washington again!
[For an excellent discussion of the implications of the trial of George Zimmerman read Blood on the Leaves by Jelani Cobb on The New Yorker website.]
It is time to march on Washington again because of chronic unemployment, especially in inner-city Black communities. A study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and published in 2010 found that in "five of the nation's largest metropolitan areas, fewer than half of working-age black males held jobs. In 25 of the nation's largest metropolitan areas, fewer than 55 percent of working-age black males were, in fact, employed," including in Milwaukee. The situation is even worse for young people. In June 2013, the official jobless rate for teenagers seeking work was nearly 25 percent, more than three times the rate for the country as a whole. In inner-city urban minority areas the unemployment rate for teenagers, by some estimates, may be closer to 95 percent. At the same time state, local and federal governments are pursuing austerity programs that cut government hiring. To demand full employment policies, it is time to march on Washington again!
It is time to march on Washington again to demand a federal response to the five-to-four decision by the Supreme Court that invalidated crucial sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and made it no longer enforceable. If this goes unchallenged by the federal government, state governments controlled by right-wing political factions will be able to reduce minority voting rates by passing restrictive voter identification laws, gerrymandering districts to dilute minority voting strength, and reducing the number of polling places and voting hours in largely minority voting districts. To demand protection for the fundamental right to vote, it is time to march on Washington again!
It is time to march on Washington again because despite, or because of, federal No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives, American schools are increasingly segregated and most African-American children receive inferior educational opportunity. According to a study released in 2012 by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, students across the country are largely attending schools that are segregated along both racial and economic lines. About 80 percent of Latino students and 74 percent of African-American students attend schools where the majority of students are non-white. Approximately forty percent of Latinos and African-American children attend "intensely segregated schools" where fewer than ten percent of the study body is white. In general, white students attend schools where about three-quarters of the students are also white. The report found that there continues to be a correlation between poor, high-minority schools and less qualified teachers, high teacher turnover rates, less adequate facilities, and fewer materials. To improve education for all children, it is time to march on Washington again!
It is time to march on Washington again because gentrification of urban communities means throwing out the poor and minorities and condemning them to live in overcrowded, substandard conditions, when they are lucky enough to have a place to live. According to a report by the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness, "in 2011, 12,422 families with children entered homeless shelters in New York City, a 17% increase since 2008." The study concluded, "As new residents move into a neighborhood, the housing market destabilizes and competition increases, and existing community members are often displaced into surrounding areas." One of the communities with the most people entering the shelter system was Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, which not coincidently, was also an area with intense gentrification and multi-family rental buildings being converted in single-family homes. The New York Times recently reported on a building that is being restored in a gentrifying section of the neighboring Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn. 1372 Dean Street, which was purchased for $66,000 in 1983, is now being sold for $1.32 million. The Times reported on progress being made by the community as a whole as it attracts new residents who are white and new boutique stores. Four families used to live in the building, the owner and three renters. While the article reported that the former owner will comfortably relocate, the names of the tenants and what happened to them was ignored. In fact there is no plan to relocate minority tenants displaced by gentrification of their communities, another reason it is time to march on Washington again!
It is time to march on Washington again because hard-working immigrant families live in constant fear that friends and family members will be arrested and deported and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which represents a small minority of the American people, is preventing passage of immigration reform. Another reason it is time to march on Washington again!
For all of these reasons and more, it is time to march on Washington again!