The Antelope Valley branch of the NAACP will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington Saturday from 4-6 p.m. at Growing Valley Baptist Church, 44818 20th St. West, Lancaster.
The theme of this free event is “Remembering Our Past Embracing Our Future,” and it will consist of discussions of what must be done next in the light of the following and other concerns: the Supreme Court striking down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act; Stand Your Ground laws, and keeping the spirit of Trayvon Martin alive; the campaign to “remove the box” to help secure jobs in the Antelope Valley; Section 8; the denial of voting rights of Blacks and Latinos in Palmdale under the California Voting Rights; and the U.S. Department of Justice report and police misconduct.
People interested in attending must RSVP by calling (661) 222-8144.
The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was coordinated by the so-called “Big six” civil rights leaders—A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Whitney M. Young Jr. of the National Urban League; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; James Farmer, initiator of the 1961 freedom ride and a co-founder of the group that would become Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Roy Wilkins head of the NAACP; and John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Bayard Rustin, who helped initiate a 1947 freedom ride and found SCLC, was chief organizer of the march.
The march attracted an estimated 250,000 people and was the scene of a seminal civil rights speech—Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” address.
The 1963 march was not the first such Black movement planned on Washington. One other was set to go more than 20 years before the successful 1963 event.
Upset over government hiring policies that discriminated against Blacks, Randolph and Rustin planned the first march on Washington in 1941.
Discrimination in the defense industry was particularly galling since African Americans were expected to be available to defend the nation but were otherwise treated as second-class citizens.
In May of that year, Randolph issued a “Call to Negro America to March on Washington for Jobs and Equal Participation in National Defense on July 1, 1941.” The response was immediate. By June, the numbers of those who were expected to rally to Randolph’s call had exploded to 50,000 by some estimates and to 100,000 by others.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried desperately to get the organizers to call off the march, but Randolph was determined to see it through to dramatize the unfair treatment of Blacks by the government. When every attempt to end the march failed, Roosevelt relented and issued Executive Order 8802, establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) and barring discrimination in defense industries and federal bureaus. As a result of this action, Randolph called off the proposed march. By the end of 1944, nearly 2 million Blacks were employed in defense work. But the commission went out of existence in 1946, about five years later.
“As Blacks faced continuing discrimination in the postwar years, the March on Washington group met annually to reiterate Blacks’ demands for economic equality,” according to History.com. “The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s transformed the political climate, and in 1963, Black leaders began to plan a new March on Washington, designed specifically to advocate passage of the Civil Rights Act then stalled in Congress. Chaired again by Randolph and organized by his longtime associate, Rustin, this new March for Jobs and Freedom was expected to attract 100,000 participants.
President John F. Kennedy showed as little enthusiasm for the march as had Roosevelt, but this time the Black leaders would not be dissuaded. The NAACP and the SCLC put aside their long-standing rivalry, Black and White groups across the country were urged to attend, and elaborate arrangements were made to ensure a harmonious event.
The growing disillusion among some civil rights workers was reflected in a speech planned by Lewis of SNCC, but in order to preserve the atmosphere of good will, leaders of the march persuaded Lewis to omit his harshest criticisms of the Kennedy administration.
In addition to the march and King’s speech, 1963 was also the year that a number of other historic events happened including: the death of civil rights fighter W.E.B. Du Bois; the murder of Medgar Evers; the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which killed four little girls; President John F. Kennedy’s critical civil rights speech and legislation and his assassination; and a continuing number of civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham and other Southern cities.
During the 2013 commemoration of the 1963 march, the National Urban League is working in partnership with Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network; Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP; and Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation to produce a major event in Washington, D.C., at the Lincoln Memorial. It will be held Aug. 21-28 and include participation by some of the King children, the families of Emnett Till and Trayvon Martin, Congressman Lewis and involvement by President Barack Obama as well as appearance by former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
Beyond Washington, commemorations are being held around the nation, with some southern cities involved in yearlong recognitions.