By Jim Norman
The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is approaching. The 1963 march was the largest political rally for human rights in United States history. It was organized by civil-rights, labor and religious organizations for jobs and civil rights. Almost 300,000 participants traveled by bus, car, train and plane from every corner of the country to march against discrimination in the workplace and in government. They marched for the right to vote without the threat of violence and intimidation. They marched for jobs, for an end to Jim Crow laws of segregation, for equal treatment, for the rights and protections owed to a citizen of the United States. They marched to receive the rights, protections and privileges promised 100 years earlier upon the end of slavery.
The passion, determination and presence of those hundreds of thousands of men and women of various races, ages and religions led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
You may have heard a reference to the anniversary on the news or in a casual conversation, or seen a posting on the Internet.
While we grapple with the New Jim Crow, grieve the death of Trayvon Martin, witness the bankruptcy of a major U.S. city and struggle with persistent high unemployment, you may wonder if another march is needed today. As our attention is drawn to the silver screen with movies like Fruitvale Station and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, you may ask if any progress has been made at all.
The enemy—fear, prejudice and bias—is persistent and still strong, and its presence still menacing.
It’s difficult to conceive of a march by hundreds of thousands for jobs and civil rights when Black men still ponder the acceptable pace to walk through any U.S. neighborhood and Black women still wonder what hairstyle, speech and demeanor will make them credible.
There are many who would encourage us to march again. The march that brought gains 50 years ago seems remote. Many of the gains have been eroded or withered away through legislation, subversion or neglect.
In this day and age, I’m not sure a march would bring the freedoms and liberties we so desperately need or would remove the fear, prejudice and bias that stand so resistant, so defiant.
I do believe that we desperately need what caused men and women of various races and religions to come together 50 years ago. Fifty years ago, before there was a march, those men and women had to possess uncommon courage—the courage to stand for freedom against racist crowds, police dogs and fire hoses. Before there could be a march, there had to be men and women of various races and faiths who were willing to put aside their affiliations to march in unity for jobs and freedom. Before there could be a march, there had to be hope—hope that would not be diminished by “Colored Only” signs, racial slurs, lynchings, violence and prisons.
On Aug. 28, I pray that we can honor the men and women who marched on that date in 1963. I pray that we can find the same courage, unity and hope to defeat fear, prejudice and bias and deliver the freedoms promised 150 years ago.
Jim Norman recently retired as Vice President, Diversity and Community Involvement at Kraft Foods Group (a spinoff of Kraft Foods, No. 17 in the DiversityInc Top 50) after more than 30 years with the company.