One of the often-forgotten aspects of the 1963 March on Washington is its name. The full, original name of that Aug. 28, 1963, gathering was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Few could argue that America has come a long way since those dark and troubled days. When one looks solely at social justice, much of what the marchers stood for—along with the millions who waited back home—has come to fruition: Blacks are no longer legally relegated to segregated, second-rate schools, stores and neighborhoods; marriage between blacks, whites and across other racial and color lines is commonplace; outright voter suppression—in the form of violent intimidation, poll taxes and incomprehensible tests—is mostly gone (although more subtle forms of suppression are still all too common).
The playing field is hardly level, though. And 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke his most famous words, the dream remains unrealized for many African Americans. Large pools of recalcitrant, entrenched economic inequality still exist.
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, told The Washington Post, "If you look at 50 years after the 1960s civil rights movement, the most stubborn and persistent challenge when it comes to the nation's racial challenge remains in the areas of economics and wealth."
The Post story cites the following statistics: "Fifty years ago, the unemployment rate was 5 percent for whites and 10.9 percent for blacks, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Today, it is 6.6 percent for whites and 12.6 percent for blacks. Over the past 30 years, the average white family has gone from having five times as much wealth as the average black family to 6-1/2 times, according to the Urban Institute."
Unemployment in every sector of our working society is still higher for African Americans than it is for whites. For young people ages 16 to 20, the black unemployment rate is more than twice that of whites: 42.9 percent last month as opposed to 20.5 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
At the root of the 1963 march was a protest against job discrimination. Among its major sponsors was A. Philip Randolph, president of the Negro American Labor Council, and Walter Reuther, president of the United Automobile Workers union. Four of the march's 10 demands was about jobs: training programs, minimum wage, and fair labor and employment practice legislation.
When a nation deprives its people of a fair, meaningful livelihood, we all lose: "The Southern Democrats came to power by disenfranchising the Negro," the final plans for the 1963 march stated. "They know as long as black workers are voteless, exploited and underpaid, the fight of the white workers for decent wages and working conditions will fail. They know that semi-slavery for one means semi-slavery for all."
What was true then is still true today.