This is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. One hundred years ago when the American Negro was theoretically freed from slavery, his freedom was not a complete thing in any sense of the word. Most Negroes were then shuttled into a second class citizenship and instead of slavery, there came into being a servant class and this class was more or less reserved for the Negro. Negroes never liked the second class citizenship. Never liked segregation, the institution which was devised to maintain that second class citizenship.
They never liked it but they put up with it and accepted it. Accepted it, because they knew of no method, no means by which they could overcome it. Within the past hundred years, much has taken place to change that situation. One significant factor was the development of non-violent, direct action techniques. CORE, an organization which is interracial in nature, was founded in 1942.
To use such Gandhi-like techniques, to seek to involve individuals directly and immediately in an attempt to change the pattern of segregation, to remove that light from the American scene. CORE in that time was very small, involving only a few individuals, both Negro and white, most of them young people. At the same time, this was during World War II. The masses of Negroes were considerably bitter. Bitter because their young men were involved in the war, they were in uniform and were told that they were fighting against the master race theory of Nazism and of Adolph Hitler.
It was inevitable that at some point they should begin to ask what about the master race theory back home? This bitterness was widespread throughout the Negro community. Later the masses of Negroes saw a non-violent direct action, a technique which could be used to channel this resentment, the resentment against segregation. They saw in 1956
the use of non-violent direct action on a mass scale in Montgomery, Alabama
, as 50,000 Negroes stayed off the buses, refusing to hate their oppressors but at the same time, refusing to accept any longer the pattern of segregation which they had grown to acknowledge in the past.
What has happened in the past few years has been a merger, sort of a fusion between the young militants, the angry young men in the Negro community and those forces which believed in non-violent, direct action. Thus we have seen large numbers of persons, no longer a handful of individuals and a very few scattered cities, but literally hundreds of thousands of people marching, sitting in, demonstrating, demanding freedom now, no longer willing to wait. They feel that they have waited a hundred years and that’s far too long. Now the ultimate objective, of course, is to put itself out of business.
What we hope to do is to achieve an open society in the United States, a society in which there would be no more need for an organization called the Congress of Racial Equality because racial equality will be an established fact. We are searching for a society in which the stature and status and worth of an individual will be determined not by the color of his skin, but by his own individual merit. That is the objective of CORE. That is the objective of the current civil rights revolution.
That in a real sense is the objective of the March on Washington. In more specific terms, the March on Washington is being held to spotlight two issues. First, jobs. Unemployment. The unemployment rate among Negroes is two and a half times as great as it is among white persons and it is increasing at the same rate which means that unless something is done to reverse the trend, it will continue to be two and a half times as high as among other American citizens.
So the March is taking place to spotlight that issue and to demand jobs. To demand an end to discrimination in employment and to demand that the federal government take strong action to create new jobs, perhaps through a massive public works program to create new and constructive work for all citizens, white and colored. The second objective of the March is to urge the passage of strong civil rights legislation.
Such legislation is now before Congress. It is being considered but it must not be watered down and that is what the marching feet in Washington, DC
are saying to the Congress and saying to the people of the nation, indeed saying to the world. Now is the time to put an end to racial discrimination in places of public accommodation which is a key problem in the South, to discrimination in employment which is a major problem throughout the nation, to residential segregation which is a major problem particularly in northern cities, to segregated schools, the de jour segregated schools of the South and the de facto segregated schools of the North and to put an end to police brutality.
We expect that the outcome of the March will be extremely positive. Aside from what the marching feet are saying to the nation, we believe that the people who are participating in the march themselves, many of them for the first time, would have been involved directly in this sort of action. When they go back to their communities, they cannot be the same. They then we expect will participate in our picket lines, in our marches locally, in lobbying for powerful legislation.
We expect too, that America will change as a result of the March on Washington. Now the March is not for Negroes alone. It is in a real sense for all minorities and what American is not a member of some minority. If one is not a Negro then he may be a Jew. If he is not a Jew, he may be a Catholic. If he is not a Catholic, then he may be German American. He may be British American. He may be a member of any number of nationality, religious, cultural or racial minorities.
As long as there is discrimination against any one minority, that discrimination can very easily spread and take in others. So what is the fight for America? It’s a fight for all American citizens. Beyond that, it is a battle for freedom which has spread throughout the world. It is a battle against the repressions and oppressions of totalitarianism. Whether it be in the southern part of the United States or in Asia or in Africa, or in anyplace else in the world, it is a battle too to find a new method for resolving conflict.
We’re living in an age when war is outmoded. We’re living in an age where non-violence is the only possible solution to the problems which beset mankind. If our revolution, non-violent in essence, can be successful, then that is a message that must be heard throughout the world. In the thermonuclear age, who in his right mind can talk about violence as a solution to this or any other social problem?