Forty Years Later, the Dream Still Lives

This past weekend, thousands flocked to Washington, DC to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. While turnout for the commemorative ceremony was lower than organizers had hoped for, the principles espoused by 1963 March organizers and Dr. King’s speech still strongly resonate in those battling today for workplace equality. While it remains open to debate how much the March played a part in the following year’s enactment of Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, what is indisputable is the ongoing need for warriors in the fight for workplace justice.

Here are links to some of the many news articles covering this weekend’s March:

March on Washington Needed More Drums (George E. Curry, Wilmington Journal)

We’re All In This Together (Jabari Asim, Washington Post)

Old Dream and New Issues 40 Years After Rights March (Lynette Clemetson and Steven A. Holmes, New York Times)

King’s Dream Not Yet Reality (Eric Berger, Houston Chronicle)

A Nation Inspired, a Dream Unfulfilled (Tim Evans, Indianapolis Star)

Newer Voices Carry Civil Rights Message (Stan Simpson, Hartford Courant)

Inspired by the Speech, They, Too, Had a Dream (Lynette Clemetson, New York Times)

March Organizers Seek to Energize the ‘Dream’ and the Movement (Hazel Trice Edney, Wilmington Journal)

Reflections on an American Ideal (Deborah Kong (AP), Modesto Bee)

A Dream Fulfilled? (Cindy George, News Observer (NC))

While it is impossible to sum up and adequately do justice to all of the extremely eloquent articles analyzing Dr. King’s speech and the March and their roles in history, several key themes emerge from coverage on this year’s march:

Where was everyone? The turnout, estimated at only a few thousand, was much less than organizers had hoped for, especially in this day of modern technology, which makes it possible to spread the world much more quickly and less expensively. While low turnout doesn’t necessarily mean a low level of support for the idea of a commemoration and/or the ideals for which it stands, it nonetheless can be disappointing to organizers, as it doesn’t convey a strong civil rights movement in the same way as an event which commands hundreds of thousands of participants. Unlike several similar marches put on by other organizations of which I have been aware and/or personally participated, I was unaware this commemoration was taking place until a day or two beforehand, when news coverage started to cover the event (and as someone whose job it is to be aware of key civil rights developments, I suspect that I am more aware than most of these types of events). Not to be critical, but I do hope that future organizers figure out better ways to spread the word and generate “virtual” participation and more actual participation from those who can travel to Washington, D.C., so that the message of the event is not diminished by low attendance.

The Movement is Broader Than Ever. For the first time, groups representing the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) and Arab communities were officially represented among the major conveners of the march. Some of the issues represented by today’s participants were not even on the radar screen in 1963, or certainly did not command the attention then that they do now. Yet, as one story noted,

It is a movement that is more diverse, yet less integrated. It is desirous of new blood, yet often out of touch with younger people. It is embracing new political causes, yet fighting to maintain its political influence. And many of the issues on the current agenda are far more subtle and complex, less easy to package, than the right to register to vote without fear of injury or death.

(See New York Times article.) The breadth of the movement indicates an increased collective understanding of what issues and communities properly belong to the civil rights community, yet will require more tending to realize its full potential. As Washington, DC’s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, remarks, “It’s a whole bevy of people who join what you could still call a movement, but it’s something far broader — less spontaneous maybe, but potentially more powerful.”

Dr. King’s Dream Is Not Yet Realized. Despite extremely significant strides made during the last 40 years, none of the chief organizers were ready to claim true vindication of Dr. King’s dream. In fact, some would even argue that things are worse now than then. While that is an extremely pessimistic view of recent historical developments, there are some statistics that would seem to bear this out. Here’s an example:

The marchers were seeking a $2-an-hour minimum wage. That translates to nearly $12 in today’s dollars — nothing close to the current minimum of $5.15. Today, blacks have the highest unemployment rate among racial groups — 12 percent in July. In 1963, the government didn’t even break out figures for blacks. At that time, nonwhites had an unemployment rate of 10.8 percent.

(See News Observer article.) Pretty sobering stuff, and a potent reminder of how much work all of us involved in the struggle for workplace justice and equality (all reading this, I hope) still have to do to ensure continuing progress toward realizing Dr. King’s dream.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.