More than a dream: The March on Washington was a movement decades in the making

21 Aug

Note: I posted this item two years ago. As I head to D.C. for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I think it is even more relevant.

Today, Aug. 28, marks the 48th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But the seeds for that march were planted two decades before Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.

A. Philip Randolph

A. Philip Randolph, best known as the founder and head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, conceived a mass march on Washington in the early 1940s to rally the national black community to fight employment discrimination, particularly in the defense industry.

“The movement grew out of the plight of the urban Negro worker on the eve of America’s entry into World War II, black unemployment having reached 25 percent in 1940,” Benjamin Quarles wrote in his essay “Labor Leader at Large” (Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, 1982). The long-existent discriminatory practices in hiring, in on-the-job training and in upgrading were more aggravating than ever to the Negro workers as they noted their country’s eagerness to contrast the American creed of liberty and equality with the suppressions that characterized the Fascist nations, Hitler’s Germany in particular. And although American industry was increasing its production to meet the needs of the national defense program, blacks were being turned away at the defense plant gates.”

In the fall of 1940, Randolph and representatives of the NAACP and the Urban League met with President Franklin Roosevelt at the White House, but the meeting netted little in the way of opening those defense plant doors. So Randolph and other black leaders formed a March on Washington Committee and scheduled a march for July 1, 1941.

In a column published on the front page of the June 14, 1941 issue of The New York Age, Randolph wrote:

“As the day approaches for the all out, total dramatic march on Washington and demonstration at the Monument of Abraham Lincoln for jobs and justice in national defense and the abolition of discrimination in Government departments, interest, sentiment and enthusiasm for this movement continues to mount daily. The task to mobilize Negroes throughout the nation for such and occasion is tremendous and herculean, but this is why it will be effective, powerful and unmistakable evidence of the Negroes’ determination to put a stop to discrimination against him on jobs provided by the money of the taxpayers in our country.

. . . “I appeal to the conscience, spirit and heart of Negro America, including men, women, youth, workers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, social service workers, office workers, railroad toilers, farmers, housewives, Negroes from every village town and hamlet; Negroes who are employed and unemployed; those in school, church, fraternal lodge, fraternity and sorority throughout the length and breadth of America to rally behind the march on Washington. More than any other single demonstration, this march on Washington is certain to make white America know that black America is here and has made up its mind that they shall leave no stone unturned in attempting to make democracy and liberty in our country real and true.”

Just the thought of tens of thousands of black folks demonstrating at the Lincoln Memorial gave Roosevelt pause. According to Quarles, he attempted to use several political weapons in his arsenal to get Randolph to call the march off. He described the plan as “bad and unintelligent” and enlisted the assistance of the First Lady, Eleanor, and New York Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia  —  both of whom were popular among blacks —  to persuade the leaders to stand down. But Randolph wasn’t going away that easily.

Plans for the march continued until just a week before the scheduled march Roosevelt blinked, signing into law Executive Order 8802, which  barred discrimination “based on race, creed, color or national origin”  in the defense industry and in government. The president also formed the Committee on Fair Employment Practices.

Only then was the march cancelled.  But Randolph still did not let down his guard. He declined an invitation to serve on Roosevelt’s fair employment practices committee and instead kept the March on Washington Movement alive to keep a watchful eye on the government’s  progress.

Sixteen years later, in 1957, at the request of  Martin Luther King,  Randolph was one of the sponsors at a Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington, to bring attention to lingering civil rights issues. According to Quarles, Randolph gave a stirring address to a crowd of more than 20,000 gathered on the Lincoln   Memorial on May 17 of that year. Then in 1963 it was Randolph who proposed and led the March on Washington (which was skillfully organized by Bayard Rustin) at which King delivered his “Dream” speech.

A threatened hurricane forced the postponement of  the dedication of a new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, which was to take place today in Washington. I trust the monument will withstand whatever Hurricane Irene has in store. My bigger hope is that the spirit of the movement for jobs and justice continues to gain strength.

Mayors and fathers

12 Aug

Recently, I bought the url whosmyfather.com, thinking I might ultimately turn this blog into a more interactive space where people could explore their relationships with their fathers (whosyourdaddy.com was taken). I haven’t gotten it set up quite yet, but feel free to contribute comments. In the meantime, I’m posting this ad for Bill de Blasio who is running for mayor of New York City. de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, and I went through the Radcliffe Publishing program together back in the day. The ad features their son, Dante.

imagesAnd speaking of mayoral races and old friends, Charlotte Golar Richie is running for mayor of Boston. I remember when she launched her first campaign for Massachusetts state representative. She’s been a dogged advocate for Boston and its residents for more than two decades. Sadly, as I was writing this, I learned that Charlotte’s father, Simeon Golar, a former New York State Supreme Court judge, from whom she learned many early lessons about politics, died yesterday. May he rest in peace.

We who believe in freedom cannot rest

14 Jul

One evening, while on his way home from service at an Episcopal church in downtown Pittsburgh, my father’s Parkinson’s ravaged body betrayed him and he took a spill. I can still feel my proud parents’ defeat when they returned home from the precinct. The police had assumed that this black man was a drunk.

When I was living in New York, I got home safely one evening after wading though the tenuous streets of my Washington Heights neighborhood only to be confronted by one of my white male neighbors who stopped me at the exterior door to my own apartment building and insisted that I prove to him that I lived there. Intimidated and humiliated, I handed over my keys.  My blood still boils more than 30 years later.

A dozen years ago, I was with friends listening to a summer jazz concert with friends at a local shopping center. Our children, then about 7 or 8 years old, repaired to the nearby Disney Store while we took in the music. The kids returned a bit later with news that they were told they couldn’t play in the store unless they were making a purchase. My daughter confided later that she, the only black child in the trio, was the one who was singled out for reprimand and asked to leave.

Living under suspicion is part and parcel of being black in America. Some of us are lucky enough to have lived to tell these tales.  Countless others, like so many black and brown men in New York City, are subjected to government-sanctioned harassment by the police. Sometimes, as in the cases of Oscar Grant or Trayvon Martin, they are shot dead by those officers or by self-appointed vigilantes.

May Trayvon and Oscar rest in peace. For those of us who still have a voice, there is no rest.

The words of Ella’s Song say it best: “Until the killing of black men  — black mother’s sons – is as important as the killing of all men – all mother’s sons . . .

 

Blacks and immigration

4 Jul
Immigration Protest

People look out at the Statue Of Liberty while they hold signs Saturday, April 6, 2013, as members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation as well as labor unions, religious leaders, immigrants and immigration advocates rally at Liberty State Park, in Jersey City, N.J. One of several demonstrations being held across the nation under the ‘Time is Now’ banner, the events are being held to urge Congress to pass immigration reform. They want to express their support for proposed changes in federal immigration laws that would put an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally on a path to citizenship. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

I had an interesting discussion today about whether creating a pathway to citizenship to 11 million immigrants who currently have no legal standing would threaten the already tenuous job prospects of African-Americans.

As the daughter of an immigrant, I have trouble seeing immigrants as “other.”  I think forcing undocumented workers into the shadows while exploiting them for cheap labor is immoral. I think the Dream Act would go a long way to provide opportunities to young people who have been in the U.S. most of their lives. I think denying social services to undocumented immigrants costs us more in the long run.

On the other end of the spectrum, I think we should devote as much attention to improving the educational preparation of black American kids, particularly in the technology fields, as we do to advocating for H-1B visas for foreign workers in “specialty fields,” who are often subjected to a different kind of exploitation. They are often paid less then their homegrown counterparts.

I think New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy and Arizona’s SB 1070, are equally abhorrent.

Earlier this year, Jamelle Bouie wrote a piece in The American Prospect titled  “How African Americans view immigration reform.” He cites research that suggests that immigration is an issue that divides blacks by class: Working-class African Americans are more likely to support restrictive immigration policies than  middle-class blacks. Bouie asserts that Democrats might need to pay attention to this clash of classes to maintain their edge in states like Virginia and North Carolina.  He also suggests that  “if Republicans are feeling ambitious, this divide could form the basis for outreach to working-class blacks.  Insofar that the GOP wants to cleave the Democratic coalition, immigration might offer a way to reach one group of working-class voters.”

Political cynics would love nothing more than to pit African Americans against immigrants and perhaps African Americans against each other.

But as Marian Hill wrote in The Grio:

“At first glance or thought, African-Americans may not inherently see themselves the product of immigration. The truth is, we are. Let’s not forget the roles and heritage of some of our historical figures in American history, such as Marcus Garvey, Harry Belafonte, Shirley Chisholm, Malcolm X, Rev. Theodore Gibson, Claude McKay, and Stokely Carmichael — all of whom were immigrants from the Caribbean. We must also remember that we cannot confront future political and legislative fights on our own without demonstrating solidarity with others who fight for equality, respect, and recognition as part of the American fabric.”

Breakfast with Mandela

30 Jun

One of the highlights of my life  was being in South Africa when apartheid breathed its final breath and Nelson Mandela was elected president. I didn’t think it could get any better until I had an opportunity to have breakfast with President Mandela at Blair House in Washington, DC, a few months later.

I keep this autographed place card to remind me how blessed I’ve been.  Keeping Madiba, his family and all of those fighting for freedom in my prayers.

mandelas_autograph

Fathers: A new generation

16 Jun

Given that this is primarily a blog bout my father, you would think I would have something profound to post on the day we celebrate, well, fathers. But, for reasons already dealt with in this blog, I don’t have a store of rich memories of my dad.

Many of my memories of him are filtered through my mother: “Don’t let your Daddy see that bikini I just bought you.” “Your Daddy told me to come down here and tell that boy to go home.” “Your Daddy would be so proud of you.”

zuri_doctor

My daughter, Zuri Adele, and her father, Darryl Alladice, in 1995

I remember being very young, maybe five or six and calling my mother an “old hag.” She thought I’d called her an “old bag,” which I kind of liked better. My mother told me to stand outside and wait until my father came home — they didn’t call it “time out” back then. Whatever punishment was meted out for my rude mouth, I’m sure my father did not administer it. He never did. I’m sure he was pretty typical of the dad of the 50s and 60s. The strong, silent breadwinner and hands-off parent.

I’m glad I have his columns to explore. Through them I’m finding that Ebenezer and I are more like soul mates than I would ever have imagined. But when he was writing for the New York Age, he wasn’t a father. If he had a relationship with his own father, it’s not at all evident. I have no idea what he thought of fatherhood, in the abstract or the concrete.

We’re lucky to live in an age when men, including the president of the United States, talk openly about fatherhood.

So here’s to hands-on fathers – biological, adoptive, step and surrogate. It’s your day. Make some lasting memories.

A great night for black actors on the Great White Way

9 Jun

After watching Serena Williams give the Best Performance by a Women’s Tennis Player in the 2013 French Open, I didn’t think the weekend could get any better. But since I blogged about Cicely Tyson’s performance in “The Trip to Bountiful” a few weeks ago, I thought I should follow up.

What a night at the Tony Awards.

Cicely Tyson: Best Performance by an Actress in a Play (“The Trip to Bountiful”)
Patina Miller: Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical (“Pippin”)
Billy Porter: Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical (“Kinky Boots”)
Courtney Vance, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play (“Lucky Guy”)

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