"The hour is late. The gap is widening. The rumbles of the drums of discontent resounding throughout this land are heard in all parts of the world."
- Whitney M. Young, Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington. D.C.
Fifty years ago, on August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people gathered for the historic March on Washington to demand jobs and freedom. The March was organized by a coalition of civil rights, social justice and labor movement leaders known as the "Big Six" James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); John Lewis, of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Roy Wilkins of the NAACP; and our own Whitney M. Young, Jr. as President of the National Urban League.
While that day is most remembered for Dr. King’s landmark "I Have a Dream" speech, Whitney Young and a host of other speakers took the podium to call for the passage of long overdue civil rights legislation and to demand jobs, a living wage, decent housing and quality education for all. As America prepares to mark the anniversary of this watershed moment and in the same spirit of unity and collaboration that Whitney Young brought to the 1963 March, the National Urban League will again join with other leading civil rights organizations to mobilize citizens across the nation to gather in Washington, DC to continue to press for economic empowerment and justice.
While much progress has been made in the last 50 years, in re-reading Whitney Young’s insightful 1963 speech, I was disappointed by the fact that many of the problems he so passionately challenged us to face back then, continue to plague us today - growing income inequality, high unemployment, urban and rural poverty, separate and unequal schools, health and criminal justice disparities, even race-based barriers to the right to vote. That is why this is not simply a time of commemoration, but more importantly, a time of continuation. The National Urban League was there in 1963, and we are still there in 2013. We are still determined to continue America’s unfinished march to freedom and to bring jobs, dignity, economic empowerment and justice to communities most in need.
A comprehensive schedule of activities, looking back and looking forward, was planned by the National Urban League, Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP, Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and others leading up to the August 24th 50th Anniversary March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial. Most notably, together with the Memorial Foundation led by Harry E. Johnson, we hosted the Drum Majors for Justice Celebration on August 23, followed by an Urban League pre-March rally on August 24.
Activities kicked-off on August 23 with a "Redeem the Dream Summit" at the Washington Grand Hyatt Hotel, featuring civil rights legends, contemporary leaders and members of the public in dialogues about the legacy of the March on Washington in the new era of civil rights. A "Drum Majors for Justice Future Leaders Celebration" followed from at Washington’s Freedom Plaza.
As Whitney Young reminded us 50 years ago, "We must support the strong. We must give courage to the timid. We must remind the indifferent, and we must warn the opposed. Civil rights which are God given and constitutionally guaranteed are not negotiable."
Marc Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League.