March on Washington: The Legacy

Push. Pull. Get in the Way.  

Those were the instructions from Congressman John Lewis to the young people who attended last Saturday’s gathering of tens of thousands who wanted to pay tribute to the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom.

Speaker after speaker spoke of the progress that has been made in 50 years and in the next breath acknowledged that the struggle for economic and social equality is ongoing. Change, it seems, is a journey that is rarely straight and often long.

Five decades ago it was a small sector of citizens demanding of government and the broader society the self-evident truths of the U.S. Constitution.   Today there are an array of rights issues—ones that go beyond black and white parity—including gun ownership, privacy, immigration policy, marriage equality.  However, voting rights, jobs and a living wage—three of the demands of the 1963 March—are still being debated and disproportionately affect Black Americans.   (Push).

Martin Luther King, Jr. biographer, Taylor Branch noted on this week’s Meet the Press that the 60’s held “a deeper resonance with the promise of democracy.”    Today, citizen mistrust of government, big business, the media, religion and the 1% has, perhaps, made us jaded. America’s first black President made some of us lift our complacent heads to see if it was true that race no longer mattered.  But then realized King’s dream that America’s children would be judged by character rather than skin color was certainly not at work on a recent, rainy night in Sanford, Florida.    (Pull).

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and in a matter of weeks, Texas and North Carolina added new voting requirements that resemble the voter suppression tactics of yesteryear.  Last week, the Pew Research Center issued a report that shows Black unemployment has consistently been twice the rate of white unemployment for the past six decades.   (Get in the Way).

America has made progress in social and economic justice  in fifty years but as we can see from 2013, freedom can never be taken for granted.  Change is a long and winding journey.  We must continue to push, pull and get in the way.



Pew Research Center

March on Washington Countdown

Countdown to the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the historic March on Washingtonblog15photo

“Slowly the tempo rose.  By 10, the inpouring was tremendous.  This went on for two hours.  The great crush of humanity on the monument grounds spilled over…and edged westward like a great lava flow.”


-Joseph A. Loftus, New York Times


Photo Credit

~U.S. National Archives document 541998


~U.S. Department of Transportation. Highway History, The Road to Civil Rights. Getting to the March on Washington, August 28, 1963.

1-day Free eBook promo-Major Harriet M. West

A Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS) would probably have been dismissed out of hand except it was 1941 and the country was engaged in a World War requiring all of the country’s resources.   By the end of World War II in 1945 there were 265,000 women in uniform, of them more than 6,000 were African-American women.


Harriet M. West became the first, Black major in the U.S. Women’s  Army Corps on August 21, 1943.  Once promoted to that rank she became an aide to WAAC Director, Oveta Culp Hobby and an advisor to the army on racial issues. West, and Major Charity Adams were the only black women to attain the rank of major during World War II.

In commemoration of Major West’s accomplishment 70 years ago, I am offering my eBook:  Long Way Home:  A World War II Novel  for FREE at the Amazon and Kindle bookstores on August 21, 2013.   Please click on the book cover to access the free offer.  I hope you’ll enjoy the read!

Book Cover

The John Lewis Speech Controversy


Countdown to the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the historic March on Washingto

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) lagged behind other civil rights groups in endorsing the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.   They were the “young turks” practicing direct action and paying the price for it and, frankly, disenchanted with the idea of a mass demonstration that seemed conciliatory to the Kennedy Administration.

The SNCC speech at the March would be delivered by its new chairman, 23-year old John Lewis who had gained experience and visibility during his participation in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins of 1960 and the Freedom Rides of 1961.  Lewis builds the frame of the speech but receives the input of many other SNCC members, the speech is ultimately a collective statement calling those in power to task for their foot dragging in righting the wrongs of segregation and racism. SNCC-button

Lewis’ speech is distributed before the March and Washington’s Archbishop, Patrick O’Boyle, Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, Walter Reuther and others object to its content—in particular language that criticizes the Kennedy administration and seems to threaten violence.

“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,” said the original draft of the speech.

In an impromptu meeting at a security office in the rear of the Lincoln Memorial, the SNCC speech is debated. O’Boyle threatens to pull out of the March coalition but finally heads to the podium to address the Marchers with the promise that changes will be made to the speech.  Wilkins and Lewis have heated words and it is only the personal intervention of A. Philip Randolph, whose life work has laid the groundwork for this March on Washington, that convinces SNCC leaders to compromise on the language of the speech.

lew0-007 Despite revisions, Lewis’ speech is a powerful statement of impatience with the progress of civil rights in America.  He describes the final speech in his memoir:  “The speech still had fire.  It still had bite…It still had an edge, with no talk of ‘Negroes’—I spoke instead of ‘black citizens’ and the ‘black masses,’ the only speaker that day to use those terms.”


Photo:   Academy of Achievement/ Bettmann/Corbis.


~Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement.

~Lewis, John with D’Orso, Michael, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1998. Chapter 11.


Countdown to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington-The Music


Countdown to the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the historic March on Washington




Joan Baez and Bob Dylan

Music of the March

Some of the music of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was performed at a stage erected near the Washington Monument at 15th and Constitution Avenue before the actual march began. That’s where Joan Baez sang“We Shall Overcome” joined by the tens of thousands gathered early that morning.

When the crowd, now in the hundreds of thousands began the walk to the Lincoln Memorial there was spontaneous singing of freedom songs by the marchers.

Marian Anderson was scheduled to begin the official program on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by leading the quarter of a million people assembled in the national anthem  but Anderson didn’t arrive on time so noted opera soprano, Camilla Williams filled in on that duty.   Anderson would later sing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

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Countdown to the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington

18 Days to go!

The Deputy Director of the March was Bayard Rustin a talented organizer with a diverse background of activism for economic justice, peace efforts and human rights. Born in 1912, he was raised as a Quaker in West Chester, Pennsylvania and had an early exposure to the work of the NAACP. bayardrustin

Rustin attended Wilberforce and Cheyney State Teacher’s College (both Historically Black Colleges) and later City College of New York but never obtained an academic degree.  He was an organizer for the Young Communist League in the late 30’s, a staunch ally of labor, worked with A. Philip Randolph on hiring inequities for Black Americans during World War II and was later jailed when he refused to register for the draft..  Rustin was also openly gay.

Rustin, a student of Gandhi’s tactics of non-violent resistance became Martin Luther King Jr.’s advisor and ally in 1956 during the Montgomery Bus Boycott developing strategies of civil disobedience for the burgeoning civil rights movement. Continue reading

The 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington


In 1963 A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Vice President of the AFL-CIO and Bayard Rustin, Organizer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined forces to organize a civil rights march for jobs and freedom in Washington, DC.

Without benefit of the internet, cell phones or the 24-hour news cycle, Bayard, the chief strategist behind the march, pulled off the largest mass demonstration in American history on August 28, 1963.

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