August 29, 2013

Historic March, a Reminder of Progress and Challenges


50th Anniversary of March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Symposium, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

by Janai S. Nelson, law professor, associate dean for faculty scholarship, and associate director of the The Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development,  St. John's University School of Law. She is also author of the article, “The Causal Context of Disparate Vote Denial” on the Voting Rights Act. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The commemoration of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is a reminder both of how far we've come as a nation and how far we’ve yet to go.

The 1963 march signaled the beginning of the end of America’s racial apartheid regime and brought over a quarter of a million citizens together, largely African-Americans, in one of the nation’s largest human rights demonstrations.  The power of their presence and the movement they represented forced the nation’s leaders finally to allow the words of the American constitution to ring with unprecedented truth. 

However, many of the legal victories of the civil rights movement -- affirmative action, voting rights, and equal employment opportunities -- have been scaled back by the Supreme Court in recent years.  The real change in our democracy envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others requires immediate and sustained attention from our legislators and advocates.  It means strengthening the Voting Rights Act by reinstating federal oversight of our nation’s most troubled voting locales.  It also means articulating an affirmative, equal right to vote, and making voter registration automatic. 

These are fundamental steps to ensure that the commemoration of the march and King's dream speech is more than just a remembrance but rather is a call to action. As I’ve written in this post on Reuters, “The promise held in King’s dream is to wake up one day to its reality — not to slumber while discrimination marches on. The immediate step we can take is to reverse the continuing assault on voting rights and expand participation in our democracy. Rehabilitating the Voting Rights Act of 1965, following the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down one of the law’s most important provisions, should be at the top of this agenda.”  The full text on this post, “King’s Deferred Dream of Democracy,” is here.