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By Leslie Walbridge

The 1963 March on Washington is often remembered for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” but the March was organized as a march for Jobs and Freedom. Fifty years later, thousands will gather on the National Mall to commemorate that day but, The Washington Post declared, economic gaps between blacks and whites persist today. While there have certainly been improvements in the realm of civil rights, “racial economic disparities are mostly unchanged and in some cases are growing.”

Michael Fletcher for The Washington Post cited disturbing statistics showing the evidence of continued discrimination. One notable comparison was the “12.1 percent jobless rate for blacks with some college education [which] was higher in 2012 than the 11.4 percent rate for white workers who have not finished high school.” Perhaps more shocking has been the lag in development of efforts to minimize the enormous wage gap. Fletcher noted, “The $1.15-per-hour minimum in August 1963 translates into an inflation-adjusted wage of about $8.80 today. The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.”

We can hope that today’s anniversary march and the speeches by former presidents’ Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, will breathe life into the movement that has slowed. Bayard Rustin, one of the organizers of the 1963 march, said that these issues come down to a problem of dignity, “since the roots of discrimination are economic, and since, in the long run, the Negro, like everyone else, cannot achieve even dignity without a job — economic issues were bound to emerge, with far-reaching implications.” In recent months, the conclusion of the Trayvon Martin case with an acquittal and the Supreme Court decision to strike down a key element of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have led some to believe that the state of race relations in the United States today is sliding backward. John Lewis, the youngest speaker at the march in 1963, addressed a crowd on Saturday at a march to commemorate the 1963 march. He said, “There are forces — there are people who want to take us back. We cannot go back. We’ve come too far. We want to go forward.”

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