March on Washington for Jobs

Is it headed in the right direction?

Freddie Allen | 8/15/2013, 9:24 a.m.
Civil rights leaders will march on Washington, D.C., on Aug. 24 to observe the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March ...
Algernon Austin NNPA

(NNPA) – WASHINGTON – Civil rights leaders will march on Washington, D.C., on Aug. 24 to observe the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech. Now economists, labor groups and community stakeholders want to make sure that the Black jobs crisis gets top billing on the agenda.

Some researchers say that the economic agenda of the 1963 march was largely forgotten as Blacks won hard-fought victories for voting rights and anti-discrimination policies in public and the workplace.

“There has been an incomplete representation of the Civil Rights Movement. On one hand people struggled tremendously, people fought, people died and we did have tremendous success, because of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” said Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity and Economy Program at the Economic Policy Institute. “We did get the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, in part, because of the pressure from the 1963 March on Washington. Unfortunately, some historians have focused just on the success and have ignored everything else.”

Austin made his comments during a recent panel discussion on the forgotten history of the March on Jobs and Freedom during a symposium coordinated by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on the economic needs of low- and middle-income families.

The Unfinished March, a report by the Economic Policy Institute, authored by Austin, detailed a number of goals outlined during the 1963 march that have been largely left behind. According to the report, organizers knew that the civil rights Blacks gained would be diminished without economic opportunities that had the power to lift millions of Blacks out of poverty.

According to the EPI report, “The organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom also demanded decent housing, adequate and integrated education, a federal jobs program for full employment, and a national minimum wage of over $13.00 an hour in today’s dollars.”

Today, many Blacks still live in poverty, attend poorly funded, mostly segregated schools, and suffer unemployment rates that are twice as high as Whites.

Austin said that many of the struggles that Blacks are facing today are connected to the economic inequality and the disempowerment of the American public and that the influence of money and lobbyists in politics is making a bad situation worse.

“Clearly the government is dysfunctional, by design, in some respects,” said Clarence Lang, associate professor of African and African American studies at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. “I don’t know that the federal government, at this point in history, is the vehicle for the kinds of changes that we might be envisioning.”

Ultimately, it falls on everyday Americans to drive that change starting in their own communities.

“You have to fight where you’re standing. Whether that’s in Kansas or New York state or Michigan, we have to begin to build and dig where we stand,” Lang said.

And like King, some economists believe that the fight for economic equality needs a strong labor movement.