With voting rights that were so hard-won in the South retracted by the Supreme Court’s ruling, with the verdict of the “stand your ground laws,” with the gaps in education, health, jobs and housing, I’m asked, where are we now as a nation?
My answer: we are still asking for justice. We are still asking to be treated equally with our white counterparts.
Many of the issues which gave rise to the March on Washington still give rise to us today.
We are still dealing with violence, hunger, unemployment and human dignity issues — especially when it comes to the number of black men in prisons.
I use this example of black males in prisons as I think about the three sons I’m raising.
Have we improved as a nation from 50 years ago?
I’m saddened to say that the first thing that comes to mind is President Obama because some people measure the success of one black man with the success of an entire community.
But, as a nation, we still have a long way to go in communities of color. We are still faced with many of the same issues that America faced 50 years ago.
How sad is that? We have stood still with education and, if we live in a poor neighborhood, school segregation has returned — if it ever went away.
We know numbers don’t lie: statistics show the gaps in all of these areas, yet we continue to be silent about them with no action to change these numbers.
It saddens my heart, as I grew up listening to relatives who were at the March on Washington talk about what that march meant for them. They were hopeful about the change that would finally come for blacks.
Now, 50 years later, I share their same hope.
Voting was and is still today, a powerful tool under utilized by many who don’t vote. I remember hearing stories and seeing pictures in history books about blacks fighting for voting rights. Here today, we have gone backwards on voting rights.
We need more grassroots actions, more civil disobedience. We need to stand up and fight for justice.
Today, yes, blacks are still treated disproportionately poorly. Some people would argue that this battle is the rich against the poor. I would say yes, this is true in part, but it is also true that the struggle continues for blacks today as it did 50 years ago.
Tee McClenty is executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and a 22-year member of the union.
50th Anniversary: 1963-2003
August 28, 1963: More than 250,000 people flooded into Washington, D.C. from around the country for the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” They were energized that day by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
Unions were major backers of the march, including the United Auto Workers, the American Federation of Teachers and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The march was organized by A. Philip Randolph, longtime president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, activist Bayard Rustin and UAW president Walter Reuther.
This month, the nation’s unions plan a massive presence at the 50th commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington. They’ll renew and re-emphasize that march’s themes of jobs and freedom as strongly now as they were emphasized 50 years ago.
Several marches in the Twin Cities also will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech (see page 13 of the current issue).
To mark this important anniversary, the Labor Review is pleased to offer several reflections on the continuing legacy of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.