March on Washington 2013: The Aftermath

Barrington M. Salmon | 9/4/2013, 3 p.m.

Fifty years ago, more than 250,000 people came to Washington to be part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. While many aspects of the freedom part have been addressed, this country has fallen woefully short of providing the jobs black Americans need.

While speakers discussed the racial and social progress the country has made last week, many admitted that economically, black America has a long way to go to achieve parity.

Now as then, black unemployment is twice that of whites, young blacks are without jobs in percentages approaching and exceeding 50 percent and there remain vast gaps between blacks and whites in wealth, educational achievement health and other social indicators.

Further, many of the gains the civil rights movement made beginning in the 1950s and ’60s are either eroding or are under threat. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 vote to gut a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That decision led to a flurry of actions by primarily Southern states to codify new legislation and other measures to suppress the vote of blacks, Latinos, the poor, young people and students, all who voted for President Barack Obama in overwhelming numbers in 2012

Obama spoke about the gains and setbacks during a speech at the “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the afternoon of Wednesday, Aug. 28.

“In some ways, though, the securing of civil rights, voting rights, the eradication of legalized discrimination – the very significance of these victories may have obscured a second goal of the march,” he said. “For the men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract ideal. They were there seeking jobs as well as justice – not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity. For what does it profit a man, [Martin Luther King Jr.] would ask, to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he can’t afford the meal?

“This idea – that one’s liberty is linked to one’s livelihood; that the pursuit of happiness requires the dignity of work, the skills to find work, decent pay, some measure of material security – this idea was not new," Obama said. "Lincoln himself understood the Declaration of Independence in such terms – as a promise that in due time, “the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.”

Since the economic meltdown of 2008, America’s middle class has been decimated by the economy’s disintegration and a lingering recession. In his State of the Union, and in speeches since, Obama has argued that the economic inequities must be redressed, proposed remedies and called on the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.

The meltdown and recession has exposed the growing disparities between America’s rich and poor. The top one percent of this nation’s wealthy is estimated to control 40 percent of America’s wealth, income and resources.

And life for middle-class and low-income Americans is characterized by chronic high unemployment affecting about 15 million people; a housing collapse triggering unprecedented numbers of foreclosures from which the country is just now recovering; lack of access to health care; and a host of other social and economic ills.