As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, there are a good deal of reflections on how conditions have changed for African-Americans in the last five decades and, not surprisingly, the extent to which conditions have not improved.
The event in August 1963 was formally known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and its organizers set clear cut goals, including full employment with decent wages.
“If that is the place to begin in assessing the progress since 1963, it’s clear that we’re a long way from full employment and for a decent minimum wage for all African-Americans,” said Hasan Kwame Jeffries, a professor of history at Ohio State University, in an interview with BET.com.
“The employment opportunities have gotten better as discrimination has lessened, but we’re still not on an equal level,” Jeffries said. “And the most recent recession has exposed the differentials that still exist. It’s clear that we have a ways to go before realizing the dream of the organizers of the March on Washington 50 years ago.”
The mere presence of an African-American president points to some important gains in the last 50 years, Jeffries said. But there are still a number of goals that are far from being achieved.
Jeffries echoed many of the points made in a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, which compared the goals of the organizers of the march with the progress made in African-American life since 1963.
The nonprofit organization painted a portrait of a Black community that is still characterized by pockets of poverty and a lack of decent housing in 2013 for African-Americans.
“Today, nearly half of poor Black children live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty. However, only a little more than a tenth of poor white children live in similar neighborhoods,” the report said.
Another aspect of the 50-year comparison is the fact that many Black students remain in segregated schools that are unequal to the schools of their white counterparts.
“In the late 1960s, 76.6 percent of Black children attended majority Black schools. In 2010, 74.1 percent of Black children attended majority nonwhite schools,” the report said. “These segregated schools do not have the same resources as schools serving white children, violating the core American belief in equality of opportunity.”
Additionally, the report said that African-Americans are in many cases no better off financially now than they were 50 years ago.
“After adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage today — $7.25 — is worth $2.00 less than in 1968, and is nowhere close to a living wage,” the report said. “In 2011, a full-time year-round worker needed to earn $11.06 an hour to keep a family of four out of poverty. But more than a third of non-Hispanic black workers (36 percent) do not earn hourly wages high enough to lift a family of four out of poverty.”
Jeffries added that, while there has been progress in voting rights since the 1963 march, there have nonetheless been a number of efforts by Republican-controlled state legislatures to enact restrictive voter identification laws. This type of legislation, like the one signed into law in North Carolina in early August, is designed to reduce voter turnout among Black, Latino and student voters as well as low-income residents, Jeffries said.
“Of course, there has been a good deal of progress in voting,” Jeffries said. “But we have to put an asterisk by that progress because of the changes that are in play right now on voting rights. Those changes may in fact tip the balance.”
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