Friday, August 30, 2013

A Friend's Memory of the March 50 Years Ago

An  eloquent piece by my old friend Elliot Linzer about his part in the original MLK march on Washington [posted with his  permission]

March on Washington, Fifty Years Later

For many weeks I have been thinking about what I wanted to write today. After seeing much the coverage in the media of both the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and of last Saturday's March, I think that the less I say now the better. You have all been reading and seeing too many words and too many photographs.
As most of you know, I served as a volunteer on the national staff of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, under Bayard Rustin, during the summer of 1963. I spent every day for six weeks working in the national office. At one point, a few years ago, I thought that I may be the last survivor of the national staff of the March. Fortunately, I am not.
It is no surprise to see that almost all the media is saying that this is the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream Speech,” ignoring the complete political and organizational context of that speech and that event. Rep. John Lewis is the only one of the speakers at the podium that day still living. While I see frequent references to Lewis being pressured to change the text of his speech, most of these accounts exaggerate the changes he made and extent of the of the differences. Lewis made two minimal changes to his speech and the leadership of the civil rights coalition sponsoring the March were largely unified behind him. I should know: I was the person who ran the mimeograph machine printing up Lewis's speech several days before the March. I was one of the first people to read it.
While Lewis's picture is seen often now, and his name appears in almost all the current accounts of the March, I have not seen other names that I had expected to see, specifically A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. I knew Rustin from the War Resisters League and Liberation magazine for about two years before the March. Others on the March staff, including, Rachelle Horowitz, Tom Kahn, Penn Kemble, Peter Graham, I knew from the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL). Norman and Velma Hill I knew from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
The Hills, Horowitz and Eleanor Holmes Norton (who I did not know before the March) are very much still alive. Have you seen any interviews with them recently? I certainly have not. This is especially odd in view of Norton now being the District of Columbia's nonvoting representative in Congress.

Very few of the articles I've seen lately mention any of the original demands of the March, especially the economic demands. Do you remember what the very first demand was? It was for a minimum wage of $2 per hour. The March on Washington really was for jobs and freedom, not just for procedural rights. While the right to vote was certainly important, and an end to discrimination in public accommodations and education was important, they were subservient to the demands for economic equality. All the civil rights leadership agreed on that.
I started this with “the less I say now the better,” so I'll stop now.
I'm looking forward to seeing your comments.

Elliot Linzer

Elliot Linzer commented on a link you shared.  ---a p.s. from elliot....
Elliot wrote: "I am happy to make a correction to what I wrote. Eleanor Holmes Norton was interviewed several times, including on MSNBC. Rachelle Horowitz was on a CNN documentary, and I think that Norman Hill was interviewed somewhere, at least that's what I've been told. The reference to the $2 minimum wage demand in 1963 was repeated in a story on NY1 (local Time-Warner all news cable channel) not about the March, but one on the one-day strike of fast food workers, demanding a $15/ hour wage. Two dollars in 1963 is the equivalent of $15 dollars today. I felt some satisfaction seeing that story."

Extended Stay America
Get Fantastic Amenities, low rates! Kitchen, Ample Workspace, Free WIFI

No comments: