2013 Marks 50th Year Since March on Washington

REV. DR. KING JR. SPEECHBy Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

The nation is preparing on next Monday (January 21) for marches, parades and speeches to mark the 84th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As tradition has it, the events will be highlighted by words from his “I Have A Dream” speech delivered at the 1963 March on Washington, D.C.

    The march culminated days of planning  by a coalition of civil rights, labor, political, civic and social organizations which demanded that lawmakers and jurists remove the shackles of Jim Crow oppression, the way it had removed the  shackles of slavery 100 years before with the Emancipation Proclamation.
    A number of speeches resonated that theme on August 28, 1963. But Dr. King’s impromptu and passionate expressions in his “I Have a Dream Speech”  oratory are the only ones repeated today that ensure the event was not forgotten.
    King gave an accounting of the nation’s deterring Blacks suffrage. He used the imagery of a “promissory note” which Blacks took to the bank of freedom but it was returned marked  “insufficient funds.”   King urged that all Americans must be judged not by “the color of their skin but the content of their character.”
    During African American History Month in February, the Association for the Study of African American History and Culture has orchestrated an effort to have the nation observe the connection between the 1863 Proclamation and the 1963 March on Washington 100 years later.
    Lincoln’s Proclamation freed few Blacks other than those in states in rebellion against the U.S. Government. One hundred years later and the March was a culmination of a series of struggles and hardships which ignited the liberation movement.
    It is a movement still being waged today to fill its coffers so the  “insufficient funds” notice is removed by the Bank of Freedom.
    Just as the Emancipation Proclamation had recognized the coming end of slavery, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom announced that the days of legal segregation in the United States were numbered.
   Long before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, historians have written that  freed Blacks along with White Abolitionists were agitating and urging the end of slavery.
   Slavery was the nation’s most profitable enterprise, as enslaved Blacks produced wealth for the plantations in the South.
    Not surprising, resistance to ending slavery was fought in the courts and with legislation. With the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott Decision of 1857,  slavery was defended until the Civil War’s end and the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments during Reconstruction which respectively gave freedom, the vote to men and citizenship to Blacks.
    Fearful of Black freedom, codes, aptly called “Black Codes” were legislated  to obstruct the new Black citizens from full access to the  economic system. Consequently, Blacks entered the 20th century  facing “separate but unequal” facilities and Jim Crow laws.
    From the 1900s  to the 1940s, African Americans continued to fight, agitating to bring down the walls of Jim Crow segregation and improve their lot.
    While it highlighted the modern Civil Rights Movement and its aims, the seeds for the 1963 March on Washington  were laid 22 years earlier by A. Phillip Randolph.
    “A. Phillip Randolph threatened in 1941 to bring 1 million Black men and women to the streets of Washington, D.C. and shut it down if Franklin Roosevelt did not adhere to their demands of the Movement,” said Dr. Lucious Edwards of the History Department of Virginia State University. “Franklin Roosevelt had to get serious about using the federal muscle to fight job discrimination, lynching and other injustices placed on Blacks at the time.”
    Randolph led the Pullman Car Workers into a powerful union nationally. He used his clout with fraternal and social organizations to formulate a  plan to force FDR to include Blacks  in the New Deal.
    Southern Democrats had blocked Black access to the New Deal, including their right to participate in Social Security.
    Randolph and his coalition met and planned. Just before the scheduled march, FDR issued Executive Order 8802, which created a Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to eliminate racial discrimination in government hiring. Randolph thereupon canceled the march.
    Black employment in federal jobs was heightened as a result of the FEPC, increasing from 60,000 in 1941 to 200,000 in 1945. However, private employers and labor unions were exempt.
    According to retired Clemson University and North Carolina Central University History Professor and author Dr. H. Lewis Suggs,  World War II, along with efforts of the NAACP, its Legal Defense Fund, Black newspapers and a growing Black professional class promoted the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1950s.
    In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court Issued the Brown Decision. Paulette Colvin and Rosa Parks defied Jim Crow racial segregation, notably in Montgomery, Ala.
    At the same time an educated and independent group of Black educated professionals were pushed or stepped forward to lead the liberation movement in the  form of  Attorney Thurgood Marshall with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Dr. King. In Hampton Roads, men and women leaders included Dr. James Holley in Portsmouth,  Attorney Joseph Jordan in Norfolk and Businesswoman Jessie Rattley in Newport News.
    “Black people were very optimistic about their chances. But White ‘massive resistance’ to their cause was strengthening too,” said Dr. Suggs.  ”By the time the SCLC was formed in 1957, King had become the titular head of the movement, because he was deemed safer than other religious leaders who had enemies in the Black community and from outside. As he grew in stature, he felt the sting of resentment from not only fearful whites but jealous Black leaders of his generation and older.
    In 1963, King wrote the book “Why We Can’t Wait” in which he looked at how  Blacks could take advantage of the momentum which was building, said Dr. Suggs.
    “We may have been optimistic because we did not see massive resistance end until the early 1970s. There were token efforts to integrate and serious use of the courts, freedom of choice and legislation to frustrate them,” he said.
    With the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, Blacks hoped they had an ally to  push for legislation to support their cause. Blacks  helped themselves with sit-ins, voter registration efforts battles  in Albany, Georgia, Birmingham, Alabama and parts of Virginia.
    “So the time was right.  In 1963. Randolph was not about to miss this opportunity to drive home the idea of the promise of Emancipation set forth in 1863,” said Dr. Edwards, Virginia State University historian. “It scared the Kennedy administration which had written a Civil Rights Bill, but it was stalled in the Congress by Southern Democrats.”
    Dr. Edwards said there were tensions among the planners of the march.
    Planners knew that the Administration did not want to be seen in a negative light, although the march was used to reveal the nation’s failure on rights for Blacks.
    “Everybody was on that page except for John Lewis (President of SNCC and currently U.S. Congressman from Georgia) who wanted to lay out all of the laundry in stark terms,” said Dr. Edwards. “They worked on him for days prior to the march and he agreed reluctantly.  So we wonder why we only recall King’s “I Have A Dream Speech” which even Kennedy said was brilliant.”
    JFK would die three months later in Dallas. But Lyndon Johnson, who was not a darling of the Movement pushed through the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Bills over the rejections of his allies from the South, including Virginia Senator Harry Byrd.

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