The significance of tens of thousands of people joining together in solidarity over common causes can never be overestimated.
So it was 50 years ago with the March for Jobs and Freedom organized by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin that was keynoted by the Rev.Martin Luther King Jr. The march was the high point of the civil rights movement and succeeded in elevating the status of America’s African-descended people to full citizenship.
As the golden anniversary of the march was celebrated Saturday with a commemorative rally and on Wednesday with an address by President Barack Obama, it was a time to reflect on what the Aug. 28, 1963, action accomplished and, of course, what has been built on the groundwork which the leaders of yesteryear laid.
As our nation emerges from financial devastation the collective view of our progress is grim. Unemployment among African Americans is at unacceptable levels. A pipeline has been constructed from schools to prisons, as President Obama and one young marcher said, and education facilities are mostly de facto segregated in many cities, with the inevitable disparity in resources and quality of educators. Even the achievements made by the sweat, tears and blood of the civil rights struggle of 50 years ago are gradually being eroded, such as the assault which the U.S. Supreme Court has unleashed on the Voting Rights Act.
This is, indeed, a difficult time for our nation and it is a truism that when the majority population sneezes African Americans catch a cold. That sneezing has long since turned into a cold and African Americans have been catching pneumonia. The parity which Dr. King envisioned in his “I Have a Dream” speech a half-century ago has remained just that, a vision still to be fulfilled.
The occasion of the 50th anniversary observance of the march, when viewed against the backdrop of 1963, shows a dramatically different picture. African American’s have made great progress. In his speech on Wednesday, President Barack Obama said the true test of our progress over the five decades is not whether opportunities for the few have expanded but whether opportunities have been made available for the many to enter the middle class. While great progress has been made, freedom and justice remain a vision.