WASHINGTON – The March on Washington 50 years ago changed America, but more needs to be done to realize Dr. King’s dream of economic opportunities and civil rights for black Americans, President Barack Obama said to a crowd of thousands at last week’s anniversary on the National Mall.
“Because they kept marching, America changed,” Obama said, noting that educational opportunities have improved, and the number of minorities in state legislatures and Congress has grown.
“And yes, eventually the White House changed,” he said, speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Obama alternated praise for progress with the need for more change. But attendees said they hoped to hear what plans the nation would take in making America freer.
Dismissing the “magnitude of the progress” achieved by civil rights activists since the initial March on Washington “dishonors the courage and sacrifice of those who led the march in those years,” Obama said.
Thousands of people made the trek to the Lincoln Memorial last Wednesday in honor of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Despite the rain, protesters marched onward singing and chanting the entire way.
Obama stressed that a central message of the original March on Washington was economic equality.
“What’s does it profit a man, Dr. King would ask, to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford the meal?” Obama said. “For the men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract idea. They were there seeking jobs as well as justice.”
Obama noted that the current black unemployment rate is twice as high as the white unemployment rate, and the Latino unemployment rate is a close second. He addressed the need for providing a gateway to the middle-class through fair wages, better living conditions, healthcare and educational opportunities.
“We should not fool ourselves; the task will not be easy,” Obama said. “Twin forces of technology and global competition have subtracted those jobs that provided a foothold into the American middle class.”
Obama recognized the struggles not only of black Americans, but of Japanese Americans who survived internment camps and Jewish Americans who survived the holocaust. He also mentioned struggles still going on for gender equality, marriage equality and religious equality.
But, the fight, he stressed, comes from standing together.
“And that’s the lesson of our past, that’s the promise of tomorrow,” he said.
Paige Sutherland contributed to this story.