How Black Unionists Organized the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom

Source: William P. Jones, Labor Notes, August 22, 2013

From the introduction:
This summer marks 50 years since 1963’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom drew more than 200,000 people. But after the latest one-two punch—George Zimmerman walking free after killing Trayvon Martin, and the Supreme Court rolling back the Voting Rights Act—the new March on Washington August 24 is clearly needed to renew the struggle. (Get on board here.)

A fascinating new book from historian William P. Jones puts the 1963 action in its organizing context. Every U.S. school child learns the opening words of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but how many are taught that the march was the brainchild of the nation’s leading black labor activists—and called not only for an end to prejudice, but also for a federal jobs program, equality at work, and a boost to the minimum wage?

Black unionists organized through the 1950s against discrimination in hiring, on the job, and in unions. After a 1959 convention vote reaffirmed that the AFL-CIO would tolerate segregated locals, A. Philip Randolph (the “dean” of black unionists and leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) and others founded the Negro American Labor Council to organize black workers.

Randolph predicted, if racist trends persisted in unions and apprenticeships, a “forgotten slum proletariat in the black ghettoes of the great metropolitan centers of the country, existing within the grey shadows of a hopeless hope.”

At the NALC’s 1960 founding convention, women unionists protested an all-male board and won two seats. Local chapters sprang up across the country, and the group kept pressing the AFL-CIO to tackle both civil rights and black workers’ access to better jobs. —Labor Notes Eds. …