Columbia, SC — It was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement: Aug. 28, 1963. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, held 100 years after the Gettysburg Address.
The march was the product of a coalition of several civil rights organizations with different approaches and agendas. The “Big Six” as they were known were organizers James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality, Martin Luther King Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Whitney Young Jr. of the National Urban League.
The demands of the march were the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation, the elimination of racial segregation in public schools, protection for demonstrators against police brutality, a major public-works program to provide jobs, the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring, a $2-per-hour minimum wage and self-government for the District of Columbia.
Fifty years later, many of the legacies of the challenges faced and marched against in 1963 still remain here in South Carolina. Our General Assembly passed legislation that makes it harder for minorities to vote in South Carolina, the African-American unemployment rate in our state still sits as one of the highest in the country, and our leaders refused to accept federal dollars that would provide Medicaid for more than 300,000 South Carolinians. We have yet to reach our full potential due to the standard of a minimally adequate education for our public schools.
As we reflect on the March on Washington, we need to focus on the parts of Dr. King’s speech that most cannot recite by heart. We should renew our commitment to guard the positive changes that have been made as a result of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, and to actively work toward tangible progress on those challenges we still face.
While we can point to achievements and advances that blacks, Latinos, women and other minorities have made, economic stability, justice for all, a living wage and a level playing field of opportunity remain elusive for many.
While our nation electing its first African-American president was a momentous occasion to be celebrated, there is still much work to be done, particularly here in South Carolina. Until a child born along the I-95 corridor has the same access to education and the American Dream as a child born along the I-85 corridor, there is work to do.
We are under no illusion that the solutions to our most pressing problems can be addressed overnight or that hearts can be changed by the mere passing of a law. However, we do believe that we must be vigilant and committed to having an agenda that will produce civil and human rights legislation for the 21st century and beyond. Just as the Big Six came together in the 1960s, today’s big, medium and small organizations must come together and forge common goals.
America and our beloved state cannot default on the promissory note of freedom and the security of justice that Dr. King spoke about 50 years ago. We refuse to accept that the greatest nation on earth and the great Palmetto State have run away from a just system and that opportunity is meant for only a privileged few.
Do we really want our kids to be well-educated and our elderly to have a secure retirement? Do we really want ladders of opportunities to exist in our rural areas as they do in urban areas? Do we really want our state to be a beacon to attract others? If so, we can reach the destiny of equitable jobs, unilateral justice and mutual respect if we work together.
Mr. Seawright is president of Sunrise Communications in Columbia; Mr. Middleton is a former aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.