The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom remains a seminal moment of the Civil Rights Movement, however, the economic imperatives civil rights leaders demanded 50 years ago have been largely forgotten and remain unmet. On Monday, July 22, 2013, some of the nation’s foremost thinkers on race and economics were brought together by the Economic Policy Institute to discuss how to achieve these economic goals, including decent housing, adequate and integrated education, jobs for all, and a living wage at a symposium called The Unfinished March.
Ernest Green (former Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Carter and one of the “Little Rock Nine”) noted that the economic goals were central to the Civil Rights Movement. Green said, “Workers were the backbone of the movement, embodying the link between economic justice and civil rights.”
Arlene Holt Baker (Executive Vice President, AFL-CIO) said that achieving the economic goals of the march on Washington are paramount not only for African Americans but for all working Americans as millions are struggling to find decent jobs and earn decent wages. The symposium and anniversary of the march provide an opportunity to reignite the, “conversation about what we must do to finish the march towards justice and shared prosperity,” Baker said.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) tied the struggle to secure the four unmet goals of the march to the fight to halt the growth of economic inequality. “Inequality is a scourge on our society,” he said, “We’re really almost at a zero moment, in which the concentration of wealth is coalescing around such a very small number of people and the vast oceans of desperate Americans are clamoring for some sort of answers.”
Clarence Lang (author of Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936-75), said, “The base of the movement was working class, every day people inside as well as outside of the labor movement, even in cases when they were not able to organize through the mainstream labor movement. They created their own organizations premised on a working class agenda, a fair and full employment, community colleges, public schools, [and] health care.”
William Spriggs (Chief Economist, AFL-CIO) called on policymakers to put jobs for working people over deficit reduction.
Unfinished March panelists discussed a frustrating lack of progress with the current depression-level jobs crisis in the black community, and mass incarceration of African Americans.
“It is at once heartening and certainly shameful that we are still debating the issue of race in America fifty years after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and 150 years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation,” said Maya Rockeymoore (President and CEO, Global Policy Solutions). “Heartening because enough people still believe so strongly in the promise of America and its progress that they’re willing to tackle the issue of race until equal opportunity and justice become a reality for all people of all backgrounds. Disheartening because we are still dealing with the original sin of racism and its manifestation[s].”
Angela Glover Blackwell (Founder and CEO, PolicyLink) said fixing the nation’s infrastructure can be coupled with lifting underserved communities. “We fix the infrastructure, and we get the people who need jobs, jobs,” said Blackwell.
“We have to have some vision of what we want this country to look like for the kids who are born today.,” said Roger A. Clay, Jr. (former President Insight Center for Community Economic Development ) “In order to have any kind of policy that’s going to move us forward, we have to know where we’re going and who’s included.”
The Unfinished March symposium is part of a series by the Economic Policy Institute that includes papers on each demand from the March on Washington, plus an overview paper, and papers on over incarceration and the wealth gap organized by Algernon Austin (director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy). The series includes forthcoming papers on education, housing, minimum wage, public accommodations, voting rights, full employment and employment discrimination.
Co-sponsors of the Unfinished March include, AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers, SEIU, the NAACP, the Center for Community Change, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, The Insight Center for Community Economic Development, PolicyLink and the National Council of La Raza.
EPI is grateful for the generous support we received for this project from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Jules Bernstein and Linda Lipsett.
Watch The Unfinished March symposium on C-SPAN.