In 1963 more than 200,000 marched as the fight against Jim Crow segregation and racism was advancing in battles across the South and spreading into the North.
This year’s event was organized by National Action Network President Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, and endorsed by scores of Black and civil rights groups and trade unions.
The March for Jobs and Freedom anniversary was organized above all as a celebration of the Barack Obama presidency. In midst of the highest unemployment facing workers in decades — hitting disproportionately at workers who are Black — his administration has done nothing to put any of the millions of jobless to work. And attorney General Eric Holder, who spoke at the rally, has led the government’s attacks on political rights.
The event included many workers looking to discuss what is happening today — from the economic crisis and the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court to the anger many feel at the fact that George Zimmerman got off scot-free for the vigilante killing of Trayvon Martin.
Discussions on these questions swirled on the hundreds of buses to the rally and where workers gathered on lawn chairs and blankets that dotted the area around the National Mall.
Overwhelmingly Black in composition, most of those attending were workers, including substantial union contingents. But there was also many lawyers, professors and other professional and middle-class people, a section of the Black community that has expanded substantially in the decades since the 1963 march.
In addition to Sharpton, King, and Holder, speakers included Congressman John Lewis, one of the 1963 speakers; NAACP President Ben Jealous; Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton; and several union officials.
Rally participants were looking to discuss what can be done to fight to change the deteriorating economic conditions workers face today, which for many is worse than in 1963.
“I came because we need to stay strong and fight for our rights,” said Eric Timmons, 31, a member of the United Auto Workers union in Detroit. Timmons said that under the two-tier wages imposed where he works, he gets about half the pay of coworkers with more seniority on the first tier.
Rachel Hampton, 36, a nursing assistant, came from Rutherford County, N.C., with the local chapter of the NAACP. Hampton said she is working three different jobs, all at minimum wage, to make ends meet. Chapter secretary treasurer Darwin Little joined in the discussion. “We need to pull together, Black and white, to see more jobs created with better wages,” he said.
Carolyn Taylor-Chester, 49, came to the action with Service Employees International Union Local 1199 from Baltimore. “So many of us are working in health care and we can’t even afford it ourselves,” she said.
“Trayvon is on my mind,” Connie Henderson, 60, a retired autoworker from Detroit, told the Militant. “I feel like it was a lynching.”
Theresa Green, a member of Transport Workers Local 100, said the rally “was more like a gathering. There are so many important issues we face. We really needed a protest.”
“The tables were a real magnet for hundreds of workers looking for literature on what we face today,” said Dan Fein, Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of New York, who helped staff one of the two big literature displays for the Militant and Pathfinder books at the Aug. 24 event. Overall, 101 subscriptions and 165 books on revolutionary working-class politics were sold.
1963 march registered advance in proletarian battle for Black rights
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