The 1963 March on Washington, Black labor

00_BillFletcherAugust 2013 represents the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington.

Publicly associated with Dr. King’s famous “I have a Dream” speech, this march brought more than 250,000 people to Washington, D.C. to demand freedom and jobs.   Initiated by Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters President A. Philip Randolph, this became a joint project with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and went down in history as a powerful show of force against Jim Crow segregation.

It is barely remembered that the March was for freedom and jobs.  The demand for jobs was not a throwaway line in order to get trade union support but instead reflected the growing economic crisis affecting the Black worker.

As August 2013 approaches, it has been noticeable that there has been very limited public discussion regarding an anniversary march to commemorate the 1963 event.

Black labor
What has, apparently, been taking place are a series of closed door discussions regarding some sort of celebratory action.  What has been particularly disturbing are the suggestions that any one person, organization, or family can claim the legacy of the March.

But, should any one constituency claim that legacy it is a group that does not appear to be at the table:  Black labor.

Randolph and other Black labor leaders, particularly those grouped around the Negro American Labor Council, responded to the fact that the Black worker was largely being ignored in the discussions about civil rights.  Additionally, the economic situation was becoming complicated terrain for Black workers.

Stark impact
In 2013 the Black worker has been largely abandoned in most discussions about race, civil rights, etc.

Unemployment for Black workers remains more than double that of Whites and hovers around Depression levels in many communities.

In 1983, I participated in the 20th anniversary March on Washington.  Although it attempted to raise the issues of the day, e.g., the threat of Reaganomics, what could also be seen was the canonization of Dr. King as a central feature for too many of the marchers.

One of the worst ways to remember Dr. King, and for that matter the 1963 March, is by canonizing any individual.  One of the best ways to remember Dr. King and the March is to use the inspiration from that great day in August 1963 as the energizing force for another round of struggle.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies. Follow him at



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