What Was Missing From Obama's March on Washington Speech?

Aude Guerruci/Pool/Getty Images
Aude Guerruci/Pool/Getty Images

In a piece at the Daily Beast, Jamelle Bouie says that although President Barack Obama did address economic fairness during his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, he missed an important point about racial justice.

As president of the United States, Barack Obama is the highest-profile legacy of the civil-rights movement, and when he took the podium Wednesday afternoon, at a daylong commemoration of the March on Washington, he acknowledged as much. "Because they marched," he said, punctuating a brief retelling of the civil-rights story, "the voting rights law was signed … City councils changed, and state legislatures changed, and Congress changed, and, yes, eventually the White House changed."

African-Americans, however, weren’t the only beneficiaries of the movement. The struggle for civil rights inspired other groups and causes. "Because they marched," he continued, "America became more free and more fair, not just for African-Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, for Catholics, Jews and Muslims, for gays, for Americans with disabilities." The fight for black freedom, he stressed, was a fight to actualize the promise of the Declaration of Independence, of the Constitution — because of that, its legacy belongs to all of us.

Except that’s only somewhat true. What Obama didn’t say, but what the civil-rights movement recognized, is that the specific experience of African-Americans requires — and required — a specific response. It’s what motivated the Freedman’s Bureau of Reconstruction and Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for an inner-city "Marshall Plan" during the Second Reconstruction of the 1960s.

To his credit, the president voiced an echo of this, emphasizing the extent to which the fight for economic fairness was a key part of the 1963 march


Read Jamelle Bouie's entire piece at the Daily Beast.

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