Commentary: The March We Need to Revive the Spirit of 1963

Much has changed since 1963, but what remains unchanged is the need for vigorous pressure to be placed on a reluctant Congress.

Posted: 08/21/2013 05:23 PM EDT

When those more than a quarter million people gathered 50 years ago for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the historic assembly produced not only some of the most stirring oratory of the 20th century, but it also is widely credited with creating the political and social force to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

And as the nation’s capital prepares for another great gathering this coming weekend, the hope is that the march of 2013 will be substantially more than a cathartic event that is characterized by an emotional outpouring of feelings about the current state of Black America. That, of course, is important, particularly in the aftermath of the verdict on George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin and in the Supreme Court gutting the heart and soul of the Voting Rights Act.

If this year’s march is to become more than a commemorative ornament on the tree of history, it must serve a call for strong, potent action on a number of fronts. For one thing, as the 1963 event galvanized a nation to eventually enhance the ability of African-Americans to cast ballots without obstruction, the 2013 march must be committed to the same goals.

To that end, it must inspire and pressure Congress to place into legislation the very items that were struck down by the Supreme Court. In an atmosphere where the voting rights of African-Americans are being attacked by restrictive voter identification laws, most recently in North Carolina, the need for such a congressional intervention is as clear as it has ever been.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has already held hearings focused on examining how it might be possible to restore protections of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the court. This would be an opportune time to place pressure on the House of Representatives to do the same, particularly in advance of the 2014 midterm elections.

Another area where it would be worthwhile to see the 2013 march apply pressure on Congress is on the arena of job creation, particularly in an African-American community that has stubbornly maintained high unemployment rates.

While a recent job report showed Black unemployment down to 12.6 percent from a high of 16.5 percent in August of 2011, the rate is far higher among young African-American men. In fact, the unemployment picture is the most significant ill to befall the nation’s Black citizens. Despite years of unsuccessful prodding from the Obama administration, Congress – particularly the House of Representatives – must feel continued pressure to enact a far-reaching jobs program.

Of course, all of this may well seem like the stuff of fairy tales, particularly given the fact that the House of Representatives would rather do nothing at all than to pass any legislation that might have even a faint hint of Obama approval.

But that’s what historic, milestone moments are designed to address. The marchers in 1963 confronted a political scenario that featured such segregationists as Alabama Gov. George Wallace and Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett. It was a year when a southern governor preferred to gain political points with an arch-conservative electorate by blocking a schoolhouse door to deny an African-American student admission to a public university.

We’re in a contemporary political landscape filled with birthers, Tea Party zealots, Republican-dominated legislatures who seek to repress voting and a Congress determined to prevent any Obama initiative from seeing the light of day. But that’s why there is such a need for energy from the hearts of progressive Americans to make sure that the spirit of 1963 lives on.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: National Archive/Newsmakers)

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