Saturday, August 31, 2013

A. Philip Randolph at the 1963 March on Washington

I missed this in my earlier post rounding up commentary on the 50th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom, but that's fine, because it's good enough that it deserves a post all its own.

For those of you who don't know, it was Randolph who first proposed a march on Washington, in 1941, which he called off when FDR, in a concession, integrated workers in war-related industries.  He was the titular head of the 1963 march (although the real organization was done by his right-hand man, Bayard Rustin, also an amazing and marvelous figure).  Here's a bit of what Randolph said about the meaning of the March for Jobs and Freedom:
And we know that we have no future in a society in which 6 million black and white people are unemployed and millions more live in poverty. Nor is the goal of our civil rights revolution merely the passage of civil rights legislation. Yes, we want all public accommodations open to all citizens, but those accommodations will mean little to those who cannot afford to use them. Yes, we want a Fair Employment Practice Act, but what good will it do if profit-geared automation destroys the jobs of millions of workers black and white? And so we have taken our struggle into the streets as the labor movement took its struggle into the streets, as Jesus Christ led the multitude through the streets of Judaea. The plain and simple fact is that until we went into the streets the federal government was indifferent to our demands. It was not until the streets and jails of Birmingham were filled that Congress began to think about civil rights legislation. It was not until thousands demonstrated in the South that lunch counters and other public accommodations were integrated.

We want integrated public schools, but that means we also want federal aid to education, all forms of education. We want a free, democratic society dedicated to the political, economic and social advancement of man along moral lines. Now we know that real freedom will require many changes in the nation’s political and social philosophies and institutions. For one thing we must destroy the notion that Mrs. Murphy’s property rights include the right to humiliate me because of the color of my skin.

The sanctity of private property takes second place to the sanctity of the human personality. It falls to the Negro to reassert this proper priority of values, because our ancestors were transformed from human personalities into private property. It falls to us to demand new forms of social planning, to create full employment, and to put automation at the service of human needs, not at the service of profits—for we are the worst victims of unemployment. Negroes are in the forefront of today’s movement for social and racial justice, because we know we cannot expect the realization of our aspirations through the same old anti-democratic social institutions and philosophies that have all along frustrated our aspirations.
Note that Randolph emphasises (as did the majority of the contemporary commentary which I saw) the connection between the civil rights and economic rights demanded in the very title of the March.  And provides, if one were needed, yet another refutation of conservative attempts to embrace the March as a narrow and fulfilled struggle.  (But then, "we cannot expect the realization of our aspirations through the same old anti-democratic social institutions and philosophies that have all along frustrated our aspirations".)

The entire speech can be found here.  It's via Digby, who adds her own commentary here.

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