The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (August 28th 1963) was where Dr Martin Luther King, Jr gave his “I Have a Dream Speech”. Some 250,000 Americans of all colours marched to the Lincoln Memorial a hundred years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – and one day after W.E.B. Du Bois died.
- Pass the Civil Rights Bill.
- Desegregate all school districts.
- End discrimination in housing and employment or lose federal funding.
- Minimum wage above $2.00 ($15.23 in 2013 dollars).
- Enforce the Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection of the law regardless of race).
- Full and fair employment.
Blacks in 1963 (and now):
- Poverty rate: 48% (now 28%, but still three times the White rate);
- Life expectancy: 7 years less than Whites (now 4);
- Unemployment rate: 2.5 times the White rate (now 1.9);
- Congress: 1% Black (now 8%. Blacks are 13% of the country).
Background: That spring 150,000 in Birmingham, Alabama protested police brutality and segregation. Police chief Bull Connor had them beat up – unarmed men, women and children! He set dogs on them, turned fire hoses on them. Shocking images appeared on television coast to coast and in newspapers all over the world.
Martin Luther King was arrested on Good Friday. He wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws…
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Protests turned violent, spreading to cities North and South.
President Kennedy got on television, called it a “moral crisis”:
One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are … not yet freed from social and economic oppression.
He asked Congress to pass the Civil Rights Bill.
Hours later Medgar Evers was shot dead.
White Southern Congressmen blocked the Civil Rights Bill.
A. Philip Randolph, a Black labour leader, pushed the idea of a march on Washington to show public support for the bill. It was Randolph’s threat of a march on Washington in 1941 that got President Roosevelt to sign an executive order outlawing racial discrimination by war contractors.
President Kennedy told Black leaders to call off the march. They said they could not stop it even if they wanted to. So Kennedy did the next best thing: he got them to water it down.
That meant James Baldwin could not speak.
That meant John Lewis, the head of SNCC, could not say this:
We will march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own “scorched earth” policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground – nonviolently. We shall fragment the South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of democracy.
Instead we got Dr King saying this:
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama … will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
A few weeks later on a Sunday morning the Klan bombed a Black church in Birmingham, Alabama and killed four Black girls.
- Quoting MLK
- The basics: Jim Crow, Cointelpro
- 1961: Freedom Riders, Hank Thomas, Jim Zwerg, Mother’s Day in Anniston
- 1963: Medgar Evers
- 1964: Fannie Lou Hamer
- 1965: Selma, Voting Rights Act of 1965
- 1969: Fred Hampton
- 1970: The arrest of Angela Davis