Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

50 years after the March on Washington: It’s time to arise to today’s civil-rights challenges

march on washington photo
NBC/Getty Images
By the time the March on Washington occurred, the nation had witnessed mass demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience by protesters throughout the country. The tribulations they faced catalyzed their resolve to persevere and take their cause to the seat of goverrnment.

On Aug. 28, 1963, 250,000 Americans bravely descended on our nation’s capital to participate in The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The peaceful protesters poured in from all over the country to urge America to make good on her promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

Nekima Levy-Pounds
Nekima Levy-Pounds

The March on Washington occurred during a tumultuous time in American history in which African-Americans experienced racial segregation, barriers to education, employment, voting and housing. They also faced discrimination in many of our nation’s institutions and private establishments. Indeed, just nine years prior to the March on Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. the Board of Education that racially segregated schools for blacks and whites were inherently unequal and in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Although the High Court’s decision in 1954 was significant and represented a legal and moral victory for African-Americans, the nation continued to struggle with issues of racial justice. Just one year after the ruling in Brown on Aug. 28, 1955, America looked on in dismay at the horribly disfigured face of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy from Chicago who was murdered in Money, Miss., for whistling at a white woman. His killers were found not guilty by an all-white jury. Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, insisted on an open casket because she wanted America to see the ugliness of racial hatred.

Three months later, on Dec. 1, 1955, a seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala.. This act of defiance against unjust Jim Crow laws landed Parks in the local jail, but more important, her act of courage sparked a national movement of nonviolent protests and helped to provide a platform for a young minister by the name of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Rosa Parks would go on to say that all she could think about was Emmett Till when she refused to give up her seat.)

Protesters had endured bombings, beatings …

By the time the March on Washington occurred in 1963, the nation had witnessed mass demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience by protesters throughout the country. The protesters endured bombings, police beatings, water hoses, police dogs, incarceration, counter-protests by angry whites, and even murder in some cases. Sadly, civil-rights leader Medgar Evers was gunned down in his driveway in Jackson, Miss., by a sniper just two months before the March.

Rather than discourage the marchers, the tribulations they faced catalyzed their resolve to persevere and take their cause to the seat of government. The quarter of a million marchers sang freedom songs, laughed, prayed, and listened intently to speakers representing various religious groups and civil rights organizations. They included blacks, whites, Jews, gentiles, college students, children, the elderly, housewives, professionals, laborers and teachers. Their demands included a higher minimum wage and access to gainful employment and decent housing, among others.

The highlight of the day was King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he articulated an incredible vision of what freedom and equality could like in America, if society were willing to work toward this goal.

Some of the tangible evidence of the impact of the march came in the form of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Both bills represented important steps in addressing the challenges wrought by centuries of racism and discrimination.

Progress, yes, but not enough

In the 50 years since that momentous gathering in Washington, there has been some progress, but sadly not nearly enough. We are living in an era in which the discrimination that was once so blatant is now much more difficult to detect, yet the disparities in wealth, health, education, and income between blacks and whites demonstrate that racism still exists.

Racism may be out of sight to the unseeing eye, but it is not out of mind to the millions of African-Americans still suffocating in what King called “an airtight cage of poverty.” It is not out of mind to African-American children and other children of color in our public schools who are struggling to obtain a quality education. It is not out of mind to the hundreds of thousands of African-Americans who are entangled in the criminal justice system for low-level, nonviolent offenses stemming from the war on drugs. And it is not out of mind for those who, despite their best efforts to find affordable housing and gainful employment, remain locked out of access to equal opportunity. These injustices serve to remind us that racism is not dead, it is merely in disguise.

As we remember the sacrifices of those who have come before us, it is high time that we awaken from our slumber and arise to the challenges that exist. Our predecessors fought valiantly in the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. It is now our responsibility to pick up where they left off and begin the second wave of the civil-rights movement in 2013. We have come too far to turn back now.

Nekima Levy-Pounds is an associate professor of law at the University of St. Thomas and the director of the Community Justice Project, an award-winning civil-rights legal clinic. 


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at 

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 08/28/2013 - 07:26 am.

    Does Discrimination still exist ?

    Sure it does. However there are more economic opportunities than there is discrimination. The author does nothing to address todays issues of total unpreparedness among minorities.

    It is pointless to howl discrimination when you bring nothing to the plate.

    • Submitted by craig furguson on 08/28/2013 - 11:14 am.

      I don’t think we can fix this by throwing money at it.

      After the North Minneapolis tornado, we discovered that 68% of the residents were on public assistance. That hasn’t fixed it yet.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/28/2013 - 12:32 pm.

      …total unpreparedness among minorities…

      ….you bring nothing to the plate…

      Ever consider the use of quantifiers like “some” or “most” or “a few” ?

      The classic definition of prejudice and the root of discrimination is the attribution of characteristics to entire groups of people.

      • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 08/29/2013 - 08:33 am.

        Entire Groups of People….

        Are referred to when people refer to the “Acheivement Gap”. Trying to parse my statement and assign “prejudice” because i did not use “some” or “most” is a joke. Every one knows that as a statistical groups minority communities referred to in this article are unprepared educationally.

        This reminds me of the time when i wanted to start a FREE soccer club in St. Louis Park. The superintendent wanted me to submit a report on how it would affect minorities, because i would have only an online sign up. We all know why.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/03/2013 - 10:10 am.

      Cause and effect

      And why are minorities “unprepared” for economic opportunities? Think about that for a minute.

  2. Submitted by Bill Woodson on 08/28/2013 - 09:40 am.

    Voices in the struggle

    I was a bit disappointed by Raj’s comment. In the land of free speech, one shouldn’t be silenced for citing a problem. And Raj, you might be interested to know that while Prof. Levy-Pounds’ article is focused on documenting our current situation, her personal and professional efforts address solutions as much as they document current challenges. I offer as evidence her creation of Bortherhood Inc., ( an initiative that Ms. Levy-Pounds and her husband created “to create a pathway out of poverty, gangs and incarceration by offering comprehensive and culturally-sensitive educational opportunities, social services, legal services and in-house employment all under one roof.”

    Brotherhood Inc. is making an impact on the lives of young men here in the Twin Cities who might otherwise be drawn to criminal or other high risk activities, redirecting these young men from the street to college.

    There are other initiatives that Ms. Levy-Pounds participates in or leads that are focused on economic empowerment for African-Americans.

    Perhaps, Raj, you could share the investments _you_ are making to “address today’s issues.”

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 08/29/2013 - 08:40 am.

      My investements

      a) Pointing out the inconvenient truth. Rather than talk in broad generalities about “discrimination”, i get to the point about what i feel afflicts such communities the most. If u have any statistical proof that i am wrong then prove it, rather than trying to state how politically incorrect i am

      b) This article and my response was not an application for saint hood. It was an article on how discrimination affects minorities and their economic development.

      c) I spent four years of my life trying to bring affordable soccer in St. Louis Park for minority children. Yes Mr Woodson, i went up against the good ole boy netwrok. If you think that was easy try it. Trust me, once u learn the politices of “diversity” in St. Louis Park, you will never do it again.

  3. Submitted by Richard Coleman on 08/28/2013 - 10:03 am.

    Professor Levy-Pounds’ chronological sequencing of historic events and incidents surrounding the 1963 March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs creates space for considering the marvelous contributions made by many tens of thousands of souls who were fully devoted to ending legal discrimination. They prayed, marched, sat-in, organized communities, built political alliances, pooled resources, and even gave their lives.

    While the 1963 March is now remembered as the event during which Dr. King delivered the splendid “I Have a Dream” speech, it is, in my mind, more important to remember the event as a rallying of souls hungry for and determined to obtain jobs and freedom. The brilliance of Dr. Kings words and delivery should never blind us to the beautiful, united presence of men, women and children of diverse religions, ethnicities, locations and classes whose presence and memories inspired the messenger. Remembering the speech is a blessing, but in my view, it is our greater responsibility to remember and realize that the message only articulated the undying hope and dream that burned within the hearts of the people.

    Professor Levy-Pounds message illuminates the sad truth that we have not remembered well. Hope needs help. The civil rights movement was about faith, hope and dreams, but it would never have taken flight without hungry, determined souls who were willing to give themselves fully to the cause. May we be inspired to stand tall in the shoes of those who preceded us and build a new fellowship of souls devoted to justice and righteousness for all.

  4. Submitted by Rolf Westgard on 08/28/2013 - 12:01 pm.

    Right on, Raj

    Read my letter in Minnpost today. Young minorities need more early education, not more civil rights movements.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/28/2013 - 12:53 pm.

    The difference today is that the many of the rungs at the bottom of the ladder are missing. The good ol’ USA has some very poor showings in surveys of the upward mobility possible in America as opposed to other countries. There are fewer jobs and higher educational achievement is required for even entry-level, minimum-wage jobs.

    And, yes, there still is prejudice:


    In all, 51% of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48% in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56%, up from 49% during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell….

    Most Americans expressed anti-Hispanic sentiments, too. In an AP survey done in 2011, 52% of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57% in the implicit test. The survey on Hispanics had no past data for comparison.

    The AP surveys were conducted with researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan and NORC at the University of Chicago.

    (end quote)

    It’s clear that prejudice and racism remains a significant factor in options and opportunities.

    Of course, to know that, one had only to read the numerous vile statements appended to the unmoderated comment sections of news stories and blog posts related to the recently completed Zimmerman trial.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 08/29/2013 - 08:45 am.

      What these statistics do not prove

      Is that there is a dearth of educational/economic opportunities for minorites in this country. Because that would be hard to prove.

      Like i said, there is plenty of discrimination. I go to job interviews and i know i will not get the job, because i know it would be an uncomfortable situation where i know that i am smarter than the guys interviewing me. However that often leads to better opportunities elsewhere , where people hiring have no hang ups.

      Why harp on everything else, except discussing what one needs to bring to the table to progress onself econimically,

      • Submitted by David Greene on 09/04/2013 - 11:18 pm.


        > What these statistics do not prove Is that there is a dearth of educational/economic opportunities for
        > minorites in this country. Because that would be hard to prove.

        There are *plenty* of statistics that show people of color make less than their white peers, are disproportionately rejected for job offers, have much less wealth, suffer health problems at alarming rates, etc. Your citing of the achievement gap fits in with this.

        It’s telling us a story. Either there are systemic barriers to people of color, or 30-40% of our population is simply incopetent/has inferior culture/etc./etc./etc./whatever excuse we have to justify the status quo.

        To me, the first seems much more likely. In fact I know it is because I talk to people who’ve experienced it firsthand.

Leave a Reply