March for Jobs and Freedom: The Unfinished Work of the Civil Rights Movement

On Saturday my Mom and I visited the new Center for Civil and Human Rights here in Atlanta. It was a very interesting exhibit and I learned a lot about the background of the struggle for civil rights and some of the unsung heroes and martyrs of the movement.

I also learned something new about the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom. I had known about the official title of the march, but many people forget that the march was also about jobs as well as segregation. What was new to me were the 10 demands the organizers wanted the march to push as part of the civil rights agenda.

The 10 demands were:

  1. Comprehensive and effective civil rights legislation from the present Congress – without compromise or fillibuster – to guarantee all Americans:

-Access to all public accommodations

-Decent housing

-Adequate and integrated education

-The right to vote

2.Withholding of Federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists.

  1. Desegregation of all school districts in 1963.
  1. Enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment – reducing Congressional representation of states where citizens are disfranchised.
  2. A new Executive Order banning discrimination in all housing supported by federal funds.
  1. Authority for the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when any Constitutional right is violated.
  1. A massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers – Negro and white – on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.
  1. A national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living. (Government surveys show that anything less than $2.00 an hour fails to do this.) [The minimum wage at the time of the march is $1.15/hour.]
  1. A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of employment which are presently excluded.

10. A federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination by federal, state, and municipal governments, and by  employers, contractors, employment agencies, and trade unions.

Looking at the list of demands we see many have been met in some way. In regards to demand number 1, we have a civil rights law that bans racial segregation in public accommodations, housing, education, and voting. As to demand number 2, federal funds can not fund segregated programs. Number 3 has been achieved, but many would argue that there is still de facto segregation within certain school districts. Number 4 has been achieved, but the law has been progressively weakened by conservatives in the courts and legislatures. Number 5 exists and so does number 6. Number 10 was introduced as part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Demands numbers 7,8, and 9 are where we see there is still work to be done before we can claim the March for Jobs and Freedom achieved all of its goals.

There has never been the kind of concerted effort to train and place all unemployed workers. A lot of lip service has been paid to skills and training. Not much has been done to provide the necessary training for unemployed black and white workers. Demand number 7 has not been met even though it seems like with globalization and technology based deskilling it is more important than ever to help train the unemployed for new positions.

The minimum wage is still a hot topic of debate today. A number of states passed ballot measures in the 2014 midterms that raised the states’ minimum wage. Even deep south states like Arkansas passed a measure so raising the minimum wage seems like a popular policy. Back in the 60s it was an issue too. With the minimum wage being $7.25 nationally we still do not have a minimum wage that “give[s] all Americans a decent standard of living.” Even if we raise the minimum wage to the $10.10 proposed by President Obama it would still probably be too low to provide that reasonable standard of living in many areas of the country.

Demand 9 is something that immediately caught my eye. The Fair Labor Standards Act is the 1938 law mandating overtime pay for all hours over 40 worked in a week, among other protections and requirement. When it was first introduced the FLSA purposely left a number of different categories of employees outside of its protection. The types of employment outside of the protections FLSA were typically the types of jobs worked by African-Americans. Jobs in agriculture and private homes (servants etc.), for example, were explicitly denied FLSA protection. These restrictions were done to gain support for passing the FLSA from southern, “Dixiecrat”, Democratic members of Congress. Jim Crow was still alive and well in 1938. the Democratic coalition relied on racist southern elements for its congressional majorities.

Today some of the original exceptions still exist. For example, agricultural workers are still exempt from the overtime provisions with the FLSA. “Live in domestic workers” are also still exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA.

President Obama has been working to push forward some parts of the goals of the original March for Jobs and Freedom. In the context of the FLSA, the Department of Labor has recently tried to extend FLSA protections to a job with a large number of female and people of color employees, home health care workers. The change was supposed to go into effect January, 2015. Pressure from state medicaid offices and home health aide provider lobbies convinced the Department of Labor to postpone imposing the new regulations.

The March for Jobs and Freedom had laudable goals and thankfully many have been met. There is still work to do and it honors those original marchers when we fight to realize all of their goals.

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