The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: Labor and the Civil Rights Movement write up

Submitted by LHRC on Tue, 10/08/2013 - 10:16

September 23, 2013

The Teamsters Labor History Research Center hosted a panel discussion on “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: Labor and Civil Rights” on September 23, 2013.  Professor Eric Arnesen of GW’s History Department organized the program.  Speakers were Professor Arnesen, Norman Hill, an organizer of the 1963 march, and William Jones, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and author of The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights.

After introducing the speakers, Professor Arnesen gave a brief overview of the 1963 march and commented on the media coverage of the recent events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the march.  He noted that the media tended to focus on Dr. Luther King and his I Have a Dream speech and tended to overlook the strong economic justice component of the many speeches presented at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.  He said that tonight’s discussion would take a somewhat different approach.

Norman Hill was the first speaker.  Mr. Hill recounted that he became an early organizer of the march at the request of A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a long-time civil rights activist.  Others who were part of the early organizing phase were  Bayard Rustin, Tom Kahn, Rachelle Horowitz and Velma Hill.  In time this group was joined by Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, James Farmer, John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mr. Hill spoke of the 10 demands the march leaders put forward, which included comprehensive civil rights legislation, housing legislation, school desegregation, job training, and a national minimum wage among other demands.  He concluded with the thought that while we use the 50th anniversary to celebrate the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom we also need to continue the quest.

Professor Jones discussed what it took to make the march happen.  It was not at all a reaction to a general call.  People and groups had to be reached and persuaded to commit to participation in the march.  Besides civil rights activists the organizers reached out to church groups, fraternal organizations, labor unions and community groups.  Media coverage of the 1963 march emphasized the economic justice theme: jobs and civil rights, he said, go hand in hand.  Rev. King’s speech was preceded by many speeches exploring the interconnections of economic justice and civil rights.  Dr. King’s speech was the culmination of the day’s activities.  The civil rights legislation promoted by the march was secured with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Discussion touched on media coverage of the 1963 events and those of August 2013, the lack of women and youth among the 1963 speakers, the loss of the economic message in the memory of the 1963 march, the playing down of the socialist credentials of many of the march’s organizers, and how the religious leaders helped to broaden the base of march participation.

This panel discussion was part of a series of events and activities at GWU celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Photographs from the event be viewed here, here and here.