On Wednesday, August 28th thousands of Americans will march on the National Mall in Washington, DC to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Historic March on Washington. The symbolic 1963 political rally is arguably one of the most important and groundbreaking events in the history of human rights movements. As of result of the march, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, giving African Americans equal access to public accommodations, establishing laws against racial discrimination in employment and giving voting rights to black citizens. And who can forget the most memorable, awe-inspiring speech given by one of the greatest African-American leaders of all time? Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the “I Have A Dream” speech, eloquently painting a picture of an America racially reconciled – where no one would judge a person by the color of his or her skin but by his or her character. Although the organizers were leveraging the march to fight the racial ills of that time, the march was largely about how racial discrimination contributed to the lack of jobs.
The official name of the march was The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The organizers believed that improving the socioeconomic position of African Americans required an end to both race- and class-based injustices in America (Anderson 1997, 239–240; March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 1963b, 3). In his speech at the march, A. Philip Randolph, president of the Negro American Labor Council and leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (a black labor union), stated:
“We have no future in a society in which 6 million black and white people are unemployed and millions more live in poverty. Nor is the goal of our civil rights revolution merely the passage of civil rights legislation. Yes, we want all public accommodations open to all citizens, but those accommodations will mean little to those who cannot afford to use them. Yes, we want a Fair Employment Practice Act, but what good will it do if profit-geared automation destroys the jobs of millions of workers black and white?”
That was why 40% of the march’s goals were related to addressing joblessness and discriminatory employment practices. Those goals were:
- A program of public works, including job training, for the unemployed.
- A Federal law prohibiting discrimination in public or private hiring.
- A $2-an-hour minimum wage nationwide.
- A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to currently excluded employment areas.
Has the 1963 political rally achieved its economic goals? According to the Economic Policy Institute report entitled “The Unfinished March”, the answer is a resounding NO.
Fifty years after the march, the statistics prove we have much work to do:
CONCENTRATED POVERTY – 45% of poor black children live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty versus 12% of poor white children.
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE – In 2012 the black unemployment rate – 14% – was 2.1 times the white unemployment rate (6.6%) and higher than the average national unemployment rate during the Great Depression (13.1%).
LIVING WAGE – The current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is well below the $11.06 an hour a full-time worker needed in 2011 to keep a family of four out of poverty.
So, what do we do to finish the work that millions of Americans started during the Civil Rights Movement? Do we march? Do we yell? Do we blog? Sure! If you get the chance to travel to DC tomorrow, march in unity. People from different backgrounds coming together for a common cause – it’s a beautiful sight. But, when you finish marching, the high unemployment rate will still be the same. Concentrated poverty among minorities will still be the same. And the low living wage will still be the same.
Jobs for Life believes the Church, followers of Christ, are uniquely positioned to continue this work. Real change happens in community. The Church, consisting of individuals, families, professionals, business owners and leaders, can walk with someone who is living in material poverty into a state of self sufficiency. We can do this by:
Building meaningful, lasting relationships with men and women who have struggled financially. All they need is someone to remind them they were created in the image of God and therefore have value, worth and purpose.
Opening our social and economic networks to build bridges to employment opportunities that those living in poverty may not otherwise have.
Sharing the transformative message of the Gospel – we were once poor. While in our poverty, Christ died so we can experience a richness that includes an eternal relationship with God.
I believe the March on Washington organizers and participants, a culturally and economically diverse population of men and women, were on to something. Economic equality is impossible without racial equality. I would go further to say, for believers, it is impossible without racial reconciliation. Don’t be blind or fool yourself to think that sin has not deeply penetrated all areas of life (individuals, systems, the environment, etc.). The problem is far more complex than pulling up one’s proverbial bootstrap. The playing field is not necessarily leveled or fair. I invite you to answer the call, meet someone who does not look like you and open your heart to the struggles of your brothers and sisters. Poverty does not just impact the select few, but it hurts us all. “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” Our stone of hope is Christ, the chief cornerstone. With Him, nothing is impossible for us to achieve. Now let’s get to work and finish what was started 50 years ago.
– LaToya King, JfL Director of Operations