(The Root) — The goals of organizations heading to Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom bear a close resemblance to the goals set by the leaders who helped coordinate the event the first time around.
In 1963 the leaders who helped organize the March on Washington were known as "The Big Six": Martin Luther King Jr., chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; John Lewis, president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Roy Wilkins, a prominent civil rights activist and executive director of the NAACP; James Farmer, founder of the Congress of Racial Equality; A. Philip Randolph, a prominent civil rights and labor movement activist who helped organize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925; and Whitney Young, the executive director of the Urban League. They came to the nation's capital to demand civil rights legislation and that African Americans receive fair and equal treatment in education, employment and housing.
This time around, there will be two marches. The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network, and Martin Luther King III, president of Realize the Dream and the eldest son of Martin Luther King Jr., will hold a march on Saturday, Aug. 24. They will be joined by a wide cross-section of speakers, including U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the last living member of the Big Six; House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi; the family of Trayvon Martin; and Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP. President Barack Obama is slated to speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the actual anniversary of the historic march, Aug. 28.
The anniversary comes at a precarious time for civil rights in our nation. The Supreme Court recently struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, inequities in the educational system abound and there have been countless examples of itinerant racism across the nation — throwbacks to the days of the pre-civil rights era.
"While we have made progress, the work we started in 1963 remains unfinished, and Dr. King's dream has yet to be realized," Jealous told The Root. "The Zimmerman verdict reminded us that justice is a relative term, while the ruling in Shelby County v. Holder showed us how easily our most treasured protections can be taken away. We are facing these challenges as the gap between the haves and the have-nots of all colors is reaching the highest level in decades. We are in a moment of urgency. We are motivated and we are organized, and we will prove it on Aug. 24."
Other organizations planning to attend the march also expressed concerns about issues affecting people of color. A few groups spoke to The Root about why they are heading to D.C.:
Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago
Sharpton may need an extra bullhorn. The Chicago Teachers Union plans to attend the march with about 100 members, according to Brandon Johnson, chairman of the union's black caucus. Many may recall that this is the same union that last year took on famous political pugilist Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a seven-day strike until he met some of their demands. But now, less than a year after Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis negotiated a tough contract for the nation's third-largest school system, 50 schools have closed and at least 2,100 of her members have been laid off, Johnson told The Root. Members are shouting mad.
"Fifty years ago, a contingent of the Chicago Teachers Union attended the March on Washington," Johnson said. "They returned and led the greatest boycott of a public school system in the country. With the continuous attacks on public education and public sector workers by this mayor, we clearly need to imbibe the spirit from 50 year ago. Last school year, we saw the greatest number of school closings in the history of Chicago and America. Of those teachers who were fired, 51 percent were black.
"That number balloons even more if you include staff," he continued. "This trip to Washington is not a futile exercise. We see it as an organizing opportunity to bring more attention to the program that is being moved by the mayor, which is one of intentional neglect of our children. We will make our voices heard."
ColorOfChange.org, New York City and Oakland, Calif.
Trayvon Martin. "Stand your ground" laws. ALEC. Stop and frisk. If you heard about any of these campaigns, you have likely heard of ColorOfChange.org, a virtual African-American civil rights organization that has effected change at the forefront of most major issues in recent history. The group plans to have a physical and online presence at the march from Aug. 24-28, Rashad Robinson, the group's president, told The Root.
"This is when blacks will be paying attention," he said. "We will be giving people real things they can do in the community to leverage power and energy coming from this moment. The ColorOfChange has been effective at getting 52 corporations to leave ALEC. We are working on other campaigns to end voter-ID restrictions and reverse 'Stand your ground' laws in states including Florida. With the current state of affairs in the nation, we have to continue to make our voices heard."
Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, Ala.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry across the nation, plans to attend the march, Tiffany Thomas Smith, public affairs manager, told The Root. She called it an important opportunity to honor the civil rights martyrs who made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for equality, and also to recognize collectively that their crusade has not yet been fulfilled, saying that the march for equality, justice and tolerance continues.
"We will be in Washington, D.C., from Aug. 24 to 28, where we look forward to spending time with the fierce community of advocates advancing human rights around the world," she said in an email statement. "The Civil Rights Memorial Center will host a booth on the National Mall from 12 to 6 p.m. on Saturday through Tuesday at the Global Freedom Festival, where we welcome our friends and supporters to share their stories, experiences and ideas about the historic 1963 event and how they're personally working to continue the march today."
Lynette Holloway is a contributing editor at The Root and a contributor at News One.
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