WASHINGTON (ABC7) — When people talk about the 1963 March on Washington, they often focus on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech.” But George Washington University history professor Eric Arnesen says that wasn’t the main focus at the time.
“It was a terrific speech, don’t get me wrong," Arnesen says. "The words were powerful. They resonatedBut in focusing on the abstract notion of freedom, in our historical memory, the specific demands of the march itself get airbrushed out of the historical picture."
The 1963 March Organizers’ presented a list of demands which included a national minimum wage and protection against discrimination in the workforce.
“It meant crucially that African-Americans, as well as all Americans, would be able to participate concretely in the American economylaboring not merely at the jobs that lock them at the very bottom of the economic pyramid, but that they would be able to compete for and win jobs throughout the economy," Arnesen emphasizes. "That if you work for a living wage that you received it would not lock you into poverty which the minimum wage then, and now, tends to do. And it meant that if the economy was not capable of producing jobs to sustain life, then the federal government had an affirmative obligation to step in and generate employment job training programs, real programs, that would allow African-Americans and white Americans and Latinos and others to participate fully in the American economy as American citizens."
The push for economic equality was led by march organizer A. Philip Randolph.
“Prior to the rise of MLK in the 1950s, Randolph was often in public opinion polls in black America the #1 black leader in the country Randolph and others made it clear that tearing down the barriers to economic advancement, replacing or removing practices that kept African Americans out of unions and out of good paying jobs were key,” Arnesen says.
The history professor hopes that Americans will take time to learn about the goals of the 1963 March on Washington as they gather on the same spot today.
"It has so much to teach us about how far we’ve come to this point in time but how far we’ve fallen short and how much farther we still have to go," he says.