Welcome William P. Jones (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Host Eric Arnesen (George Washington University)

The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights

In just a few weeks, the nation will be commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, the civil rights demonstration that drew a quarter of a million participants to the National Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The March is one of the civil rights movement’s iconic moments: peaceful protesters, the largest demonstration to date in the country’s history, and music and more music. Of course, the best remembered moment of the entire movement history is, I think, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a oratorical masterpiece that is regularly replayed or excerpted in print, radio, and television. It has become, through repetition, perhaps the most recognized protest speech in modern American history. In popular memory, Dr. King’s speech is what the March was about: a dream of a new, integrated America, a nation that finally, after centuries of slavery and racial oppression, lived up to its promise of equality. The March, then, is often remembered as King’s March, its purpose summarized by King’s dream.

William Jones returns to that iconic moment in his new book, The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights to remind us that the March was about far more than King’s dream, that the cast of characters involved in making the March a reality was far broader and larger than King and his advisors, and that the March had a much longer history, one that dates back to at least the early 1940s. “Few know that King’s was the last of ten speeches” at the end of a six-hour demonstration, he writes in the Preface to his book.

Even fewer know that it was a march ‘For Jobs and Freedom’” aimed at not just ending racial segregation and discrimination but also ensuring “that Americans of all races had access to quality education, affordable housing, and jobs that paid a living wage.” On the list of the March’s demands was a demand for federal civil rights legislation that guaranteed all Americans access to public accommodations, integrated schools, the right to employment, and the right to vote. But also on that list were demands for a “massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers . . . on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages” and a national minimum wage that guaranteed all Americans a “decent standard of living.” The economic component of the March was front an center in both its official demands and in its title – a “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”

“We are the advance guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom,” declared A. Philip Randolph, the principle force behind the March and a long-time civil rights and labor leader, in his opening remarks that day, “[R]eal freedom will require many changes in the nation’s political and social philosophies and institutions. . . .The sanctity of private property takes second place to the sanctity of a human personality.”

Will Jones restores the economic dimension of the March, often downplayed or ignored in popular accounts, to the historical narrative. He goes further in anchoring the 1963 demonstration in the longer history of black labor activism, rooted in the efforts and aspirations of Randolph’s own Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the March on Washington Movement of the Second World War, and the Negro American Labor Council. A considerable portion of his book, in fact, focuses on the campaigns of labor activists in the two decades before the ’63 March to combat discrimination in the job market and in trade unions and push for legislation mandating fair employment. The pre-history of the March, Jones suggests, is indispensable to any understanding of the events that took place on that August day half a century ago.

Jones tells a rich and compelling story, one that deserves to be read and debated widely. And, with this online exchange, let the discussion begin!

Welcome Will Jones and everyone who is reading along and participating.

Let me begin with a straightforward question, Will. How is it that the economic dimension of the March has been slighted in media accounts, popular histories, and documentary coverage? Given the importance of the economic demands, how and why have they largely been written out of the picture?


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

115 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes William P. Jones, The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights”

BevW August 11th, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Will, Eric, Welcome to the Lake.

Eric, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Special Note: Dr. H. Benjamin Williams, a member of the original March on Washington will be joining us today in the Comments.

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Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Greetings, folks, and welcome to our exchange on Will Jone’s book. Will, any thoughts on my introductory question about the economic dimension?

dakine01 August 11th, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Good afternoon William and Eric and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon.

William, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but why do you think the economic message has been brushed aside over the years? Is it a form of divide and conquer?

I just have vague memories of the march itself but my freshman year in college, the freshman orientation instructor played the entire “I have a dream” speech for us one day and it did make a profound impact on my thinking.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Hi Eric. Thanks for starting this discussion. And thanks to all of you on line. I’m thrilled to be having this exchange.

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

It’s all yours, Will. Take it away.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:04 pm

I see several reasons why the economic aspect of the march has been forgotten. The first is that entire march was not well remembered in the late 1960s — a period when civil rights activists and others felt that the economic justice issues were getting worse while they made some progress toward racial equality. In that period activists grew increasingly critical of the movement in the early 60s — even people like Bayard Rustin, who had been a central organizer of the MOW, started to criticize the earlier movement for ignoring race.

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:05 pm

So the “celebration” of the March we now engage in — that was a late ’60s and beyond phenomenon, right?

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

“Ignoring race” in what sense, what context? Perhaps elaborate.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

The second reason we forgot about the economic aspect of the march was the way the event was re-remembered in the decade following MLK’s assassination. Drew Hansen has written about this in his great book The Dream, where he shows how liberal political leaders were attracted to King’s speech as an optimistic counterpart to the increasingly frustrated rhetoric of many civil rights leaders — not just Black Power and New Left radicals but even moderates — in the 1970s. That was the period in which King came to be seen as the leader of the March and the broader civil rights movement — and when the speech came to be seen as a summary of the broader goals of both.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Sorry — they criticized the early movement for ignoring economics

BevW August 11th, 2013 at 2:08 pm

As a technical note,
there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and number you are replying to and helps for everyone in following the conversation.

(Note: If you’ve had to refresh your browser, Reply may not work correctly unless you wait for the page to complete loading)

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Thanks. And could you respond to Dakine01′s question about “divide and conquer”?

RevBev August 11th, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Would you please comment some more on the treatment/role of women? Obviously, much was typical of the times, but what more motivated so much
exclusion or lack of value of women in the March and in the movement?

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:10 pm
In response to RevBev @ 13

Yes, there is extensive treatment of this subject in the book. Will, perhaps a summary?

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Two questions about the Washington event.

1. How did the rally come to be in that location? I think I’ve heard a version of that backstory, but have forgotten it.

2. What was the participation of black women on the stage and how did that (not) come about? I remember some controversy.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:11 pm
In response to Eric Arnesen @ 7

I think the memory we have now started in the late 1960s, but it took several decades to develop fully. In the 1970s, liberals used King’s speech as a counterpart to radicalism, but conservatives still saw King as a dangerous radical. You can see that in Jesse Helms’ opposition to the MLK holiday and Reagan’s resistance to it as late as 1982. Not until after that did conservatives embrace the I Have a Dream Speech and contrast it to more expansive visions of racial equality and economic justice.

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:11 pm
In response to RevBev @ 13

Heh. You beat me to it.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:13 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

Can you explain what you mean by divide and conquer?

Mauimom August 11th, 2013 at 2:14 pm
In response to RevBev @ 13

One of the things I found fascinating about Will’s account of the earlier stages that preceded the 1963 March, [i.e., A. Philips Randolph's actions in the 30's, 40's and 50's], was how important women were in keeping action — and the idea of a march on Washington — alive.

So it’s particularly confounding that they were so pushed aside in later years.

dakine01 August 11th, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Using the emphasis on the civil rights question to divide people while ignoring the economic question that could possibly unite folks against the 1% (I.e., concentrating on the civil rights question, especially in the south was often used to give the poor whites someone to look down upon)

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:17 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 19

Will’s book chronicles quite well the grassroots efforts of women activists from the 1940s onward; their exclusion from any central public role at the ’63 March indeed sparked controversy. But that very exclusion/relegation to background roles contributed to new organizational efforts by black women in the mid’60s.

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:17 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 19

The part I think I remember was that, though women worked hard behind the scenes, none were allowed to be speakers.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:20 pm
In response to RevBev @ 13

I write about this extensively in the book and its hard to summarize in this context, but the main point I would make is that women held important positions of leadership in all the organizations that formed the march and were always central to the organizing process. When they pushed for official representation at the march and a chance to have a women as a main speaker, however, Randolph and other male leaders refused. There are lots of reasons for this — the biggest ones being plain old sexism and the desire of black activists to counter what they saw as the debilitating effects of racism on black masculinity. I think the most important outcome of all this was a revolt of black women after the march — which led to the inclusion of “sex” discrimination in the equal employment clause of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the formation of the National Organization for Women in 1966.

Dr. Ben Williams August 11th, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Hello, Professor Jones. Do you happen to have an example of the conservatives “embracing” the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech?

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

When this line of questions is done, perhaps we can turn our focus back in time to the 1940s. The ’63 March had its origins – conceptual origins, at any rate – in an earlier movement during World War II. Could you reflect on the 1941 March that never took place and how it informed the ’63 March? Can we understand the ’63 March without understanding the “non-March” of 1941?

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Not even a token singer on stage like 24 years earlier. Shameful.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:22 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 15

The Lincoln Memorial was chosen for the march was was planned and called off in 1941 (this is a long story and a major focus of the book). It was the focus of several marches in the 1950s — all aimed at pointing toward the lack of progress toward racial equality since Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

RevBev August 11th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Thanks…and I know you said alot about this in the book. The treatment still seems abit surprising to me when, as I understand, women were so strong and central to the Black family.

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

My new question can wait a moment; I’d suggest responding to Dr. Ben Williams first on conservatives’ embrace of the Dream speech.

Mauimom August 11th, 2013 at 2:23 pm
In response to Eric Arnesen @ 21

Before we go much further, I want to give Will a huge “thank you” for this book.

My husband attended the March on Washington and worked in Louisiana during Mississippi Summer. I’m old enough to remember all of this, and have always considered myself fairly informed. And yet this book points out how much at least I DIDN’T know, both the long history of actions, organizing, activities, arguments that FINALLY culminated in the 1963 March, and the cavalcade of actors in addition to MLK who should be recognized.

I’m a little over half way through, and I’m blown away.

Thank you.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Shelby Steele’s book The Content of Our Character.

BevW August 11th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Dr. Williams, welcome to the Lake.
(Dr. Williams is the President of the Cobb County Southern Christian Leadership Conference – SCLC)

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:25 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 30

Mauimon raises a great point. Based on popular histories of the march and coverage students get in school, it’s not surprising that the origins of the march and the economic dimension that was so crucial to it are missed or forgotten. And that’s what Will’s book does so well.

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:25 pm
In response to Eric Arnesen @ 25

As add-on, what role, if any, did need for wartime factory workers play in reducing discrimination, particularly in blue collar unionized jobs, thus middle class economic status.

Also role of AA soldiers & eventual desegregation of military. How important was that?

Mauimom August 11th, 2013 at 2:26 pm
In response to Eric Arnesen @ 25

Yes, the “almost March” of 1941 is a fascinating story, and one we never hear about.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:26 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 20

I don’t have evidence that people were trying to do this, but I see what you mean.

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:26 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 34

Quick clarification, please. In what period of time? You are referring to the 1940s? Thanks.

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:28 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 35

On the 1941 March that wasn’t…. an excellent account can also be found in a chapter in Lucy Barber’s great Marching on Washington, a book that devotes chapters to a variety of demonstrations from the 1890s onward. Just FYI.

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Did the planners have any idea how many would show up? IOW, did size of crowd disappoint (I think not), meet, or exceed expectations? How was attendance organized? Buses, I suspect. Where did they all park? How did infirm attendees get to demonstration?

How did crowd size compare to 1939?

Mauimom August 11th, 2013 at 2:30 pm

I was blown away by your opening quote from A. Philip Randolph:

No greater wrong has been committed against the Negro than the denial to him of the right to work.

Substitute “any individual” for “the Negro,” and that applies today.

And would make a great organizing slogan. [You'd have to rework the "him" as well.]

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:30 pm
In response to Eric Arnesen @ 37

War years. You referred to 1940s, in U.S. history in my mind the dominant event is WWII.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:31 pm
In response to RevBev @ 28

You’re right about the family, and this is central to the debate that played out within the civil rights movement. Randolph and others argued that a central goal of the mvoement was to win family supporting jobs for black men so that women and children could leave the labor market. Many black women supported that goal, although some pointed out that women needed better wages and working conditions when they were in the labor market anyway. There was an important break that played out within the context of organizing the MOW. It was led primarily by Pauli Murray, who argued that black women could no longer place their own demands for good jobs behind those of men. The break actually took place at a meeting the night after the MOW — at the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women.

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:31 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 41

Sorry, my comment at 41 didn’t show up when I pressed submit, so I repeated it here. Then it showed up at 41 on next refresh….

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:31 pm
In response to BevW @ 32

Thanks for joining the conversation!

Dr. Ben Williams August 11th, 2013 at 2:34 pm
In response to BevW @ 32

A pleasure and a marvelous opportunity to learn about this valuable online resource.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 34

There was a great deal of conflict over access to unionized factory jobs — it was the early mobilization for WWII that finally ended the Great Depression. This meant that many white factory workers took violent action to shut black workers out of these jobs — resulting in a wave of race riots in 1943. On the other hand, some unions took remarkable action to counteract this and push for laws opening factory jobs to all qualified workers. The United Auto Workers played a particularly commendable job in Detroit, as did the Packinghouse Workers union in Chicago.

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 43

The issue of what factors contributed to black economic advancement in the 1940s is one that historians and economists still debate. The need for wartime labor certainly played a role, but in the early years of the war many — most — defense contractors preferred white to black labor, relegating the black workers they did hire to the lowest, hardest, unskilled jobs. The FEPC — Fair Employment Practice Committee — did challenge that discrimination, although scholars disagree about the extent to which the FEPC managed to get black workers hired and promoted. (It seems to have done better in the east and midwest, with little progress in the south). But although some black workers in some places did make advances in the labor market, those advances were limited. Most civil rights activists at the war’s end agreed on the need for federal fair employment legislation, something that didn’t happen until the passage of Title VII of the ’64 Civil Rights Act.

alichtens August 11th, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Hi Eric, Hi Will.

Will, perhaps you already addressed this, but could you talk a bit about John Lewis and SNCC. They sought a more confrontational stance that day…

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Separating the interests of black women from those of black men, playing the misogynist card, was another aspect of divide & weaken the movement. Pitting mothers & women working outside the home against those who wanted to raise families full time. Did you identify those aspects as weakening, delaying racial aspects of civil rights?

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to alichtens @ 48

Alex, hi. It’s a dramatic story, one that I often feature in my undergrad lecture on the ’63 March & the civil rights movement. But Will should tackle this one.

Mauimom August 11th, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Will, what I recall from the book was that early organizers focused on the right of blacks to be considered for and get good jobs and good positions in the armed forces during WW II.

Particularly after the troops came home, this put them in opposition to unions, which in the South, were strictly segregated. This appeared to me one way that the Movement was divided.

Maybe you can talk some more about the role of unions in all of this. [A long and complex story.] I apologize: my copy of the book is on my computer, so I can’t thumb through it for a reference.

alichtens August 11th, 2013 at 2:41 pm

I am teaching a freshman seminar on the civil rights movement right now, and the students really found that interesting.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:42 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 26

There were actually several tokens — Mahalia Jackson sang before King’s speech. Joan Baez and Camilla Williams also sang. Josephine Baker gave a short greeting and Daisy Bates introduced Rosa Parks and other “heroines” of the movement.

Mauimom August 11th, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Oops, I see you made this response as I was typing my question.

alichtens August 11th, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Myrlie Evers was there as well, I believe.

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I know little of the specifics of how WWII influenced these movements. Nice to hear that UAW & Packing House unions played a constructive role. Did not know about 1943 race riots. Look forward to reading the details in your book.

BevW August 11th, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Dr. Williams, Will you be in DC for the March on 8/24 or 8/28?

cherwell August 11th, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Howdy. Question: Professor Jones, what motivated you to write this highly enlightening and much needed book?

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:44 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 39

A few weeks before the march Bayard Rustin estimated at least 100,000. I think by the time it took place he knew there would be more but probably not as many who actually came. The city was largely abandoned due to fears of violence, so parking was not so much of a problem had they showed up along with all the tourists and federal employees who normally go to DC on a weekday.

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I hope I’m not being overly controlling… but in the next few minutes, perhaps Will can address the March’s pre-history in more depth. Much of the hook centers on the two decades before the ’63 demonstration and focuses on the World War II era March on Washington Movement, the long struggle for fair employment, and the role of unions in both supporting and restraining progress on the civil rights front. The story of Randolph’s efforts at combating the racial practices of many of the AFL and then AFL-CIO’s international unions is central to Will’s book, as is the story of the Negro American Labor Council.

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:47 pm
In response to Eric Arnesen @ 47

Camel’s nose under the tent cliche comes to mind.

IOW, once workers demonstrate equality, it becomes more difficult to openly espouse inferiority.

Does not end discrimination, but makes it more hypocritical.

Dr. Ben Williams August 11th, 2013 at 2:48 pm
In response to BevW @ 57

You betcha. Are you?

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:49 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 51

I don’t see any point where leaders of the MOW, even the more moderate ones, where anti-union. They objected to unions that segregated their membership or excluded non-white workers from membership, and pushed to expel them from the AFL-CIO. They also formed mostly black unions to organize workers excluded from racist unions. But their position was that segregation and racism weakened the labor movement — which they saw as central to the struggle for racial equality. There’s actually an important part of the book where I address a debate among black trade unionists over how to punish racist unions without undermining the broader labor movement.

BevW August 11th, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I am going to try, (I live locally).

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:51 pm

With demonstrations of this magnitude, I ask this intimate and embarrassing question. What were the sanitation facilities?

Armies (sorry to use military analogue) march on their stomachs. This is a peaceful army of equality seekers. What about food & drink? I’d guess most brought enough with & sharing was common.

Dr. Ben Williams August 11th, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Thanks. My inquiry was meant to learn what conservatives such as Mitch McConnell, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Eric Cantor, Michelle Bachmann, Ted Cruz, et al. Shelby Steele has long been the curtain that white conservatives have hidden to justify their racism.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to alichtens @ 48

Hi Alex,

Thanks for joining the conversation. My sense is that the differences between Lewis and others have been exaggerated. He did want to make a stronger statement against JFK’s civil rights bill, and to use violent imagery in his speech at the Lincoln Memorial, and Randolph and Rustin convinced him to drop them out of respect for the broader goals of the march. But his speech remained remarkably militant and full of language that moderates would not have used. SNCC activists claimed later that they pushed for civil disobedience in Washington, but this was never seriously considered by anyone involved. It was proposed in an early draft of the march program written by Rustin, but dropped before SNCC even joined the mobilization. I write more about his in a recent issue of Dissent: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/the-forgotten-radical-history-of-the-march-on-washington

Mauimom August 11th, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest “anti-union.” What I was thinking of more was what I read as the frustration among those pushing for equality [in the 40's and 50'] to get the unions to back them and the cause. MOW might go out of their way not to undermine the “broader labor movement,” but felt that they didn’t get reciprocal support on the issues they cared about.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
In response to alichtens @ 55

That’s right — one of the “heroines” introduced by Daisy Bates.

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Going to jump in with my prejudice (heh) on this issue, and maybe Jones can shed light on both.

Think RWMs (rich white males) don’t care if their racism shows or not. They’ve got enough $$ from RRRRRWMs to buy their political positions.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 2:59 pm
In response to BevW @ 57

I’m speaking at the DC Public Library (2pm) and Busboys and Poets (6pm) on August 22, and will stick around for the 50th Anniversary march on the 24th.

Dr. Ben Williams August 11th, 2013 at 2:59 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 70

Tragically true. Thanks.

Mauimom August 11th, 2013 at 3:00 pm
In response to Eric Arnesen @ 60

I’d love to return to this topic as well.

I’m willing to bet there won’t be any references to the “economic issues” that were central to the ’63 MOW [let alone the earlier efforts] when the “Great Celebration” of the MOW occurs later this month.

Any thoughts about how to get them included?

I think if we had an awareness of those earlier struggles, the progress that was made, and the current backsliding, it might give folks a focus and purpose to get organized and get to work again. It’s criminal to think that all those efforts have brought us so little ECONOMIC progress. We need to do better to honor all those who worked so hard.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:01 pm
In response to cherwell @ 58

Thanks! I was doing research for another book and discovered a huge collection of papers from the Negro American Labor Council, the organization that initiated and did most of the organizing for the MOW. I had no idea this group was so central to the civil rights movement or the MOW, and figured we needed to know about that as the 50th anniversary approached.

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 3:04 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 73

If the past is any indication, you are probably right…. But Will’s book does put the issue of the economic dimension and the role of trade unionists squarely on the narrative table. I spoke with a USA Today reporter doing research for a story on the March a few weeks ago… and much to my surprise and delight, he was well versed on the economic side. (And he was about to track down Will — who was then out of the country — for a long conversation.” So it’s possible…. that this time around the narrative line will be different. And, if I’m not mistaken, Will will have an op-ed coming out on the anniversary as well.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:05 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 73

I’ve actually been impressed at how Obama has integrated the MOW into his discussions of economic policy these past 2 weeks, and I expect that he will make the economic component of the march central to his remarks at the August 28th celebration. My concern is more that the economic agenda is often separated from the discussion of racial inequality — with the implications that they cannot be addressed at the same time. This is something that the MOW did very well — particularly A. Philip Randolph. His opening speech argued that black people were at the forefront to the movement for economic justice because they were the worst victims of economic crisis. This is a narrative that I don’t see Obama embracing.

Dr. Ben Williams August 11th, 2013 at 3:06 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 65

My father traveled with A. Philip Randolph’s group from Philly. He was one the 10,000 men named, “George.” We met in DC to march together after I had spent the night talking with Rev. Jesse Jackson at our frat house [Omega Psi Phi].

All of the “George” guys packed their own food [sandwich, soda, and cake]. I don’t recall any facilities — could have been attributed to my youthful ability to hold my proverbial water.

My best memory: how many white people supported this event. STRONG — not token.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:07 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 68

That’s correct. The Negro American Labor Council originally planned to march on the DC headquarters of the AFL-CIO — they were extremely frustrated at the lack of support they got from top leaders of organized labor.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Great story. There were port-a-potties — but I suspect not nearly enough. Marchers were all told to bring their own lunches — and instructed not to put mayonnaise on their sandwiches lest it spoil in the heat! The National Council of Churches made 80,000 lunches and delivered them in refrigerated trucks for sale to people who forgot theirs.

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Guys have it easier than dolls. :-)

(Senior white woman.) My sympathies were with the movement but did not participate. Had I, I would have been like Jesus with bread & fishes. For group events, parties, usually make/bring 2-3X as much food & drink as needed.

Very interesting about Georges. I had no idea.

JAndersonius August 11th, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Actually, looking at a website for the march this year, http://nationalactionnetwork.net/mow/why-we-are-marching/, there is a list of goals for the march which includes workers rights and jobs and the economy.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Yes – 10-20% of marchers were white. Many were students and civil rights activists but my sense is that the vast majority were union members. There’s a wonderful children’s book about a white girl who went to the march with her father, a union activist from Indiana. Swain, Riding to Washington: http://www.amazon.com/Riding-Washington-Tales-Young-Americans/dp/1585363243

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:17 pm
In response to JAndersonius @ 81

There are 2 events to mark the 50th. The National Action Network is calling for a march on August 24, which was originally focused on raising the minimum wage but has expanded to focus on the issues surrounding the Trayvon Martin case. This seems to have gotten significant support from civil rights groups and unions. The National Park Service and the King Center are organizing a commemoration on August 28. Obama has promised to speak at this, and he seems to be using it as a way to frame his economic policy. It will be interesting to see the differences between the two — but my sense is that both will pay significant attention to the economic goals of the MOW.

cherwell August 11th, 2013 at 3:17 pm

thank you for both your answer and this book. i have much to learn as i was unfamiliar with the Negro American Labor Council.

also, living in the beloved community, i predict there will be quite the emphasis on the economic disparity.

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

FYI, the US Information Agency’s Motion Picture Service released a documentary entitled “The March” in 1964, with a lot of very vivid footage of the ’63 event. It can be seen at http://marchonwashingtonfilmfestival.org/learn/watch-the-march/

Dr. Ben Williams August 11th, 2013 at 3:19 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 80

Yours is but to “comment,” and ye shall receive:


eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Most precious fact of the day.

Not to trivialize the more substantive info.

eCAHNomics August 11th, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Have to depart.

Thanks to everyone for this discussion and will definitely get book to read.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:27 pm

I’ll try to address Eric’s earlier question about the roots of the movement in WWII. A. Philip Randolph first called for a MOW to protest discrimination in the defense industries and the armed forces during the initial mobilization for the war. The US had not yet entered, but President Roosevelt called on the US to be the “arsenal of democracy” by providing weapons and equipment for democratic governments in Europe and Asia. This was galling to Randolph and other black activists who pointed out that black workers were almost completely excluded from jobs making that arsenal and from the armed forces that were expanding in case the US joined the war. They organized 50,000-100,000 people to march on the capital, but called the march off when FDR issued an executive order banning discrimination in the defense industries. This initiated a 20 year struggle to pass federal legislation banning discrimination by all employers — which was not realized until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:29 pm

The value of this long perspective on the 63 March is that it shows how central economic justice was to the postwar civil rights movement. It also reveals the long-standing networks and institutional roots that allowed Randolph and other activists to build the massive demonstration in 1963. This is in contrast to the popular view of the march as spontaneous.

Dr. Ben Williams August 11th, 2013 at 3:29 pm

As of yet, I have not had the opportunity to read your book, William, and look forward to it upon my return from the 50th Anniversary vs. a “celebration,” below are my thoughts from 1963:

1. High school and college students were focused and synergized with common purpose, discipline and stamina;
2. Coalitions of religious and political leadership;
3. The largest gathering of advocates for civil rights;
4. My father and I marched together;
5. Large portion of the world validated the leadership of Dr. King and the civil rights movement;
6. People of color constructed an international platform upon which other oppressed groups could stand;
6. JFK/Geo. Wallace confrontation re: desegregation;
7. Death of JFK; and
8. Advocacy for change in American cities via acts of insurrection.

THE PAST IS PROLOGUE. A template for change has been cast and proven to be successful. Racism, segregation and discrimination are increasingly evident on the international landscape. Fueled by fear of the emergent demographics that portends significant changes in social order, political power and economic prosperity, many who are privileged and others who believe they have proximity to those who are privileged, are trying to fortify themselves against the inevitable by employing oppressive legislation and a criminal justice system that is far from fair and balanced. Déjà vu, ALL OVER AGAIN!

Really? 50 years later, the work STILL needs to be done to fulfill “the dream.”

hackworth1 August 11th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Isn’t it time for another big march where blacks, whites, hispanics and all other common people can stand together against the 1 percent?

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

What Randolph and the March on Washington Movement did, in effect, was put the issue of fair employment on the political agenda. Executive Order 8802 and the FEPC did not halt employment discrimination, but that failure only underscored for activists the need for strong federal legislation. Failing that, activists from the civil rights, religious, and labor communities worked on state and municipal level fair employment statutes, winning many local victories of sorts (the laws were never as strong as they needed to be). But fair employment became a rallying cry — something it hadn’t been before World War II — and it was the activists’ efforts that led to the inclusion of a Title VII in the ’64 bill.

cherwell August 11th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Does your book address the peril ALL of the marchers faced for participating in this “radical” event?

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Not just the “popular view” but the view of many academic historians of civil rights. Granted, more folks are focusing on the economic dimension these days, but how do you account for progressive academics’ missing the story that you tell?

RevBev August 11th, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Thanks. The justice system is such an obvious sham in many ways. Certainly ripe for major attention.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:36 pm
In response to cherwell @ 94

There are a few instances of people being attacked on their way home from the march. The worst was two young men who were beaten when they got off a bus in Meridian, MS, but there were also stones and a few gun shots directed at buses headed north through Baltimore. For the most part, however, people were surprised at the lack of violence that day. In the weeks before the march, media focused on the danger of riots — some of this was projected at marchers but it was also based on the idea that they might be attacked by white supremacists and/or police. The example was Birmingham, where peaceful marches had ended in horrific scenes of violence. The American Nazi Party applied for a permit for a counter demonstration and, when that was refused, encouraged members to go and taunt the marchers. Some did this, but it did not result in violence.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:40 pm
In response to hackworth1 @ 92

I’m not sure a MOW would have the same impact that it did then — in part because of the success of the 1963 one and the way this has become a mainstay of protest movements since then. It’s no longer threatening. But I do think there are lessons that today’s movements can take from the MOW. Most importantly, they need to be rooted in working-class institutions — unions and civil rights groups — that can mobilize people on that scale and keep them mobilized for extended struggle. This is something that seems to be lost on many movements today, who seem to think you can make change by signing a petition or sending out a tweet.

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Will — in our remaining time…. any thoughts or predictions about how the ’63 March will be commemorated in the media/popular culture later this month? Do you think the coverage will be different this time around?

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:48 pm
In response to Eric Arnesen @ 95

My sense is that historians have largely accepted the popular view that the march was moderate and narrowly focused on racial equality to the exclusion of economic justice. They have also shifted their attention from well known events like this one to explore the grass roots movements that largely escaped media attention. This has produced a wealth of great literature, but left the big events to journalists who often just repeated the same story.

cherwell August 11th, 2013 at 3:48 pm

thanks AND i was referring to the “aftermath” that ensued, sometimes months later, upon returning home.

as dr. williams has pointed out to me during this salon, what was hated MORE, was an “N-lover.” NNTR [appreciative smile].

DWBartoo August 11th, 2013 at 3:49 pm
In response to RevBev @ 96

Well, considering that this Salon is about economic justice, RevBev, and we have all just witnessed a recent economic “debacle” of immense magnitude, resulting in millions losing their jobs and more millions losing their homes, with absolutely NO meaningful consequences, of any kind, for those who engineered the “crisis”, that is the financial and political elites, the “astute” bankers and the “persuaded” politicians whose collusion brought this nation to its knees, economically … it could be reasonably suggested that the justice system is suffering from an almost total breakdown of the Rule of Law, a breakdown engineered to protect the elite few … also applicable to increased secrecy and secret laws permitting wholesale spying on “the people” of the United States, torture, as official policy, and the use of drones without due process …


Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Ah, in an ideal world, the journalists/popular view would be informed by the scholarship, not the other way around!

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:51 pm
In response to Eric Arnesen @ 99

I’ve spoken to a lot of reporters in the past few weeks — and they tended to be interested in getting the story right. I also think that the 2 commemorations will focus on economic justice in ways that previous ones have not. There’s a lot of conventional wisdom out there, but I’m optimistic that the context of the economic crisis and a black president will allow for some complexity in the discussion. We’ll see!

BevW August 11th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the last few mints of this great Book Salon discussion,

William, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and the historic March on Washington.

Eric, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Williams’ website and book

Eric’s website

Thanks all, Have a great week. If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

RevBev August 11th, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Thank you for a really great book. There was so much history and discussion of the personalities. Certainly an interesting time for you to present.

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 3:54 pm

I hope you are right — and I predict that this time around there will be more accurate and informed framing of the March, its origins, and its legacy. Your book enters a field that is hardly small; there are, in fact, many books on the March. But you’ve managed to situate the March in its larger context, providing the necessary background of two decades of prior struggle, and you’ve broadened considerably the cast of characters involved in making the March a reality. I know you’ve got a busy month ahead talking about the book. Very glad to know you’ll be spreading the word.

Eric Arnesen August 11th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Thank you Bev, thank you Will, and thanks to everyone who participated.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:57 pm
In response to cherwell @ 101

One thing that I try to describe in the last chapter of the book is the roots of what would later be called the New Right in a backlash against civil rights laws that started during and after the march. The most shocking instance of this was a story of a black couple that tried to move into a home in suburban Philadelphia the day after the MOW — and were greeted by an angry mob that threw stones and bricks until the couple retreated to their apartment in “the City of Brotherly Love.” This was part of a broader national movement that bolstered Barry Goldwater’s run for President in 1964 and launched Ronald Reagan’s campaign for governor of California in 1966.

DWBartoo August 11th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

William, you suggest that … “the crisis and a black president will allow for some complexity in the discussion.”

Unless I have failed, utterly, to understand what has transpired these past few years, that “black president” and his policies have been supportive of the financial elites and NOT the people as a whole.

Do you see things differently … or are you simply, audaciously, hoping?


RevBev August 11th, 2013 at 3:57 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 102

You must know that I certainly do not disagree. Maybe we can say that’s just a start. I actually was thinking more about Black incareration and the death penalty. Thanks for your note.

William P. Jones August 11th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Thanks to all of you, and particularly Eric. I really enjoyed the exchange and hope you all like the book!

DWBartoo August 11th, 2013 at 3:58 pm
In response to BevW @ 105

A most excellent discussion, Bev, thank you.

Much appreciation to William and Eric … and all who participated.


DWBartoo August 11th, 2013 at 4:04 pm
In response to RevBev @ 111

I consider your thoughts absolutely appropriate, RevBev. Those realities, of incarceration and execution, are shameful and must be acknowledged in any reasonable discussion of the state of the legal system in this nation, a system premised upon money and “standing” … which, most always, work to the detriment of the poor, the marginalized, all those many whom the few profiting, most obscenely, from the status quo believe they may treat with contempt and brutality.


Dr. Ben Williams August 12th, 2013 at 4:10 am

Many thanks To Beverly Wright, Professor Jones, Professor Arnesen, all of the participants and Cherie [cherwell] who assisted/supported my “tech” challenges.

Here is a link to an interesting read: The August 24 March on Washington: Why We Need a New Civil Rights and Labor Movement [http://www.laprogressive.com/march-on-washington-50th/].


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