Equality and Liberty

  • August 29, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Stephanie Schlatter, Board Chair Ex Officio of the Washington, D.C. Lawyer Chapter. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    I remember asking my parents years ago about the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and all the events of the 60's and wondering what stood out in their mind. My mom spoke about her memories of the May 1961 bus burning in Anniston, just down the road from her home and a few weeks before she graduated from high school.  She remembers how so many people were sickened by the Klan, yet frightened about speaking out.  My dad spoke of being a young Army officer and meeting with the African American soldiers when the news came about what happened that fateful day in Memphis on April 4, 1968, and how he struggled to find the words to answer their questions of how and why they should fight for a country where a man like Dr. King could be assassinated. I remember thinking how my dad must have struggled with his answer, knowing that only a few years earlier he had been in Montgomery with the crowd that welcomed Dr. King and the marchers from Selma.

    As I set out the morning of Aug. 28 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I sensed the reasoning in his answer - this is our country. All of us.  And we must be willing to fight, and speak up, and speak out, to make it a more perfect union for all of us - men, women, young, old, gay, straight, immigrants, employed, unemployed - everyone. We all hold the dream of America in our hearts - that is why we march. That is why we remember.

  • August 28, 2013
    Guest Post

    by William E. Forbath, Associate Dean for Research, Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair in Law, University of Texas at Austin School of Law. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    Not only conservatives, but we liberals and progressives have forgotten much about the kinds of rights and the kinds of equality demanded by the March on Washington half a century ago today.  Conservatives have fastened on the famous line in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech – that one day black children will “be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” – and tied the March and King’s “Dream” to their color-blind Constitution.  But liberals and progressives also have fashioned a story-line that ties the March to a narrower vision than the one that actually animated the organizers and marchers that day.  Our standard accounts tend to slight the links that the March forged between racial equality and economic justice.   They say that the March focused on the right to vote and an end to segregation and discrimination in employment, education and public accommodations.  In that way, they too suggest that the marchers’ main demands for legal change were met. 

    For conservatives, the March stood for color-blindness, which is already within our grasp, if all of us only shared the courage of the Chief Justice’s convictions about our over-reaching civil rights laws and doctrines.  For liberals and progressives, the March stood for the advances in civil rights embodied in the great civil rights statutes of 1964 and ’65.  So, for us, too, if only the venerable 1960s civil rights laws were enforced to the hilt, the “Dream” of 1963 would be within reach.

    Our standard liberal accounts, in other words, depict the March as a great landmark in what we have come to depict as the hopeful “early” phase of the civil rights movement, demanding the kinds of laws that Congress soon would enact.  Only later – in this familiar “early”/ “later” phase narrative of the civil rights movement – did the civil rights movement “go North” and confront for the first time the “intractable problems” of urban poverty and economic deprivation, on which the movement foundered.   This is the narrative that informs such liberal classics as the great “Eyes on the Prize” documentary series; one finds it in most constitutional law casebooks; and it also shapes the contrasts President Obama has drawn between the “economic populism” of the New Deal, with its focus on jobs and economic justice, and the 1960s battle for civic equality and an end to Jim Crow, as the core of what the civil rights movement was about.   

    In fact, however, economic injustice, joblessness and exploitation were squarely on the March on Washington’s agenda back in 1963. If the March is a landmark of the “early” phase of civil rights movement history – its demands a key source for our accounts of the original, core meaning of the movement’s vision of rights and equality, then we must include economic enfranchisement in the original mix.  The March’s demands were riveted on what its organizers called the “twin evils of racism and economic degradation.”  

  • August 28, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Gabriel “Jack” Chin, Professor of Law, University of California, Davis School of Law. Professor Chin is the author of The Tyranny of the Minority: Jim Crow and the Counter-Majoritarian Difficulty in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review(with Randy Wagner). This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.    

    As Americans reflect on events a half century in the past, I hope they will consider how it might guide our actions now. In particular, I hope people will think about what Americans still owe the African American community.

    On August 28, 1963, the date of the March on Washington, the United States was pervasively discriminatory to a degree not fully appreciated today.  African Americans bore a significant burden; in many or most parts of the country, they could not vote, attend public schools with whites, patronize the public accommodations or live in the housing that they wished, or hope to be hired for a broad range of public and private employment. 

    But African Americans were hardly the only oppressed group. Rape within marriage was no crime, and, although the Equal Pay Act was on the books and would take effect in 1964, employers could get around it simply by not hiring women for good jobs.  The idea that gay men and lesbians might legally marry someone of the same sex was absurd; instead, investigation, prosecution, and imprisonment for sodomy were an important part of the business of law enforcement.  Un-American immigrants (Africans, Jews and Catholics) were discouraged from immigrating through gerrymandered quotas; Asians were excluded by race.  The list of those whose marginalization was justified and defended as obviously correct was long, and included people with mental or physical disabilities, Indians, religious minorities including Jews and Muslims, children born out of wedlock, and single mothers.

    America was remade thanks to the bodies and blood of African Americans -- whites and others also participated in the civil rights movement, of course, but, primarily, it was African Americans. The civil rights struggle, exemplified by the March on Washington, had revolutionary consequences. Part of its effect was near-term changes like passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the unsung but perhaps most effective anti-racist legislation of the period, the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965, which, by allowing for immigration on a non-racial basis, put America on the path to being a majority-minority nation.  

  • August 26, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor, West Virginia University College of Law. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom represented the high point of the decades-long civil rights movement against Jim Crow apartheid. The March brought heightened international attention to African Americans’ demands for social, political, and economic justice.  And the March offered a snapshot of the battle to awaken the moral imagination of the country. Indeed, the progress achieved in the 1960s battle for civil, political, and economic rights could not have been made without first winning the battle for the moral imagination of the United States. 

    The movement made apparent the injustices of Jim Crow. The movement called white America’s attention to the terrorism of lynching and bombings. The movement forced Americans to consider the effects of segregated facilities. The movement demanded equal participation for African Americans in the political process. The “I Have A Dream” speech spoke for many in the movement by setting out specifically the moral question of civil rights for African Americans to the country.

    Dr. King sought not just to evoke the question, but also to show the necessity of answering the question immediately. He said that “[w]e . . . come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”  Yet, the question we must confront in 2013 is whether we have been tranquilized into the lethargy of gradualism concerning the work that needs to be done. 

    Fifty years ago, because of the public shaming of nonviolent protest, the majority society of 1963 could no longer ignore the tyranny of American apartheid. As a result, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  We can rightfully rejoice in the fact that America today cannot be called an “apartheid” country. But the majority society of 2013 seems to have forsaken the Civil Rights Movement’s call to moral imagination. Instead, many in society seem to have fallen victim to a new kind of gradualism.

  • August 23, 2013
    Guest Post

    By Joseph Hansen, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    The UFCW is proud to stand with our brothers and sisters from across the country to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Fifty years ago on August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  The march, organized largely by civil rights and labor leaders to promote freedom, economic equality and jobs, was one of the most important events in U.S. history and paved the way for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    In spite of the advances we have made over the last 50 years -- including the election of our first African American president -- thefight for social and economic justice continues.  The Great Recession has widened the gap between the rich and poor, and the very concept of the American Dream -- namely that hard work pays off and the next generation will do better than the current one -- is in jeopardy.

    The African American and Latino communities, in particular, have been hit the hardest by the recent economic downturn, and the unemployment rate among African Americans continues to register in the double digits. Comprehensive immigration reform has not yet been realized, and our current system penalizes too many people whose only crime is trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. Minority communities have also been the targets of voter suppression, and the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down key parts of the Voting Rights Act will undermine their access to the ballot.