It’s often forgotten that the 1963 March on Washington was officially called the “March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom.” As Harold Meyerson reminds us in a fine piece at TAP this week, the idea of the march was based on a paper written by Bayard Rustin, Normal Hill and Tom Kahn at the request of the great civil rights and labor leader A. Phillip Randolph (leader of the World War II-era March on Washington Movement that helped spur the desegregation of the armed services and defense industries) calling for an Emancipation March For Jobs keyed to the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
If the immediate political goals of the March (federal civil rights and voting rights legislation) were largely accomplished, and quickly, the economic goals in many respects remain unrealized. As Michael Fletcher notes in today’s WaPo:
Even as racial barriers have tumbled and the nation has grown wealthier and better educated, the economic disparities separating blacks and whites remain as wide as they were when marchers assembled on the Mall in 1963.
When it comes to household income and wealth, the gaps between blacks and whites have widened. On other measures, the gaps are roughly the same as they were four decades ago. The poverty rate for blacks, for instance, continues to be about three times that of whites.
“The relative position of blacks has not changed economically since the march,” said William Darity Jr., a professor of public policy, economics and African American studies at Duke University. “Certainly, poverty has declined for everybody, but it has declined in a way that the proportion of blacks to whites who are poor is about the same as it was 50 years ago.”
Today the unemployment rate for African-Americans is 12.6%, nearly double that of whites (6.6%).
This isn’t to say that the political benchmarks of the 1963 March–particularly the right to vote, which is perpetually imperiled–don’t still matter. But clearly, it’s the economic side of the “dream” that remains unfulfilled to a significant extent.
As Randolph said at the 1963 march:
Yes, we want all public accommodations open to all citizens, but those accommodations will mean little to those who cannot afford to use them.
That’s still true today.