1963 vs. 2013: Marching on Washington
In anticipation of Saturday’s scheduled National Action to Realize the Dream March, we take a walk down civil-rights memory lane, including what’s changed since the 1963 march and what has stayed the same.
It was 50 years ago when the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and events around the country will commemorate the march this month. Even President Obama is in on the action. He’s scheduled to deliver remarks on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday at a “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony.
So, 50 years later, has the dream been realized? Not quite, according to the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, which is behind the commemorative National Action to Realize the Dream March scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 24, at the same historic location. In anticipation of the march, we take a walk down civil-rights memory lane, including what’s changed since 1963 and what has stayed the same.
1963: The common shorthand for the Aug. 28, 1963, event, March on Washington, dropped the specific clause about its goals. The official title was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
2013: The National Action Network’s event has been dubbed the National Action to Realize the Dream March. Why the remixed title? “It is important that you use the name when speaking about the march so that people understand that this march is not just a commemoration, but a continuation of the efforts 50 years ago,” the group’s materials say.
1963: A. Philip Randolph — international president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, president of the Negro American Labor Council and vice president of the AFL-CIO — took the lead for organizing the march. He wrote his May 24, 1962, letter requesting a march permit on behalf of the Negro American Labor Council, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. By the end of the summer, the NAACP, the National Urban League and other civil-rights organizations had signed on to participate or sponsor.
2013: This year’s march is the brainchild of Sharpton, National Action Network president and founder, and Martin Luther King III, Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s elder son (and president of Realizing the Dream). The groups joining them have plenty of overlap with the organizations behind the 1963 events: The King Center, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the NAACP, the SCLC, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Urban League and the National Council of Negro Women are all on board.
1963: More than 200,000 people converged on the national Mall, filling more than 2,000 buses, 21 chartered trains, 10 chartered airliners and countless cars. The influx of marchers meant that all regularly scheduled buses, flights and trains were at capacity.
2013: “We are expecting at least 100,000 people will rally with us in D.C.,” the National Action Network predicts. That’s less than half the original count, but there’s an additional form of attendance that those who marched 50 years ago couldn’t have even imagined as a possibility: The organization expects hundreds of thousands more to “rally through social media to take a stand against the many issues that are plaguing our broad community.”
1963: The march’s stated goals included a comprehensive civil-rights bill, legislation to protect the right to vote, desegregation of all public schools, a $2-an-hour minimum wage nationwide, a massive federal works program to train and place unemployed workers and a Federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination in all employment. Some of its goals were included in provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
2013: The organizers of this year’s march have not released specific goals, but according to the organization, the march will call attention to inequality and injustice related to jobs and the economy; voting rights, workers’ rights and women’s rights; “stand-your-ground” laws and gun violence; immigration; environmental justice; young people and college loans; and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.
1963: Bayard Rustin handled most of the logistics and mobilization for the 1963 march. He built and led the team of 200 activists and organizers who publicized it and recruited the participants, coordinated travel, provided the marshals and handled all of the final details. And all this with no Internet.
2013: The National Action Network has a website for registration, a hotline and information for contacting local organizers. News releases have been widely distributed, and Sharpton has the platform of his MSNBC program to drum up enthusiasm for the event.
1963: Everyone knows the march was when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. first delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from the Lincoln Memorial. That was the undisputed high point of the day, but that was far from the whole program. Other remarks came from Randolph, Rustin, Little Rock civil-rights veteran Daisy Lee Bates, actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, American Jewish Congress President Rabbi Joachim Prinz, United Automobile Workers President Walter Reuther, NAACP President Roy Wilkins, National Urban League President Whitney Young and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader John Lewis.
2013: In addition to Sharpton and King III, the list of speakers includes the families of Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till, along with Lewis, now a Georgia congressman (the only one of the six leaders of the 1963 March on Washington who is still alive); House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi; Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer; Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza; Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union; Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association; and Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.