Today marks the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which called for equal rights for African Americans and featured Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Amidst the excitement surrounding the anniversary, Professor of History Allison Dorsey cautions the public not to lose sight of the true meaning of the march.
"As I remind my students, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was for jobs first," says Dorsey, who teaches numerous courses on African American history. "Poverty was, and remains, a barrier to true freedom, equality, and a Christian sense of a just society. Dr. King's work was about all of those things. That's who the man was."
Dorsey, previously a research fellow at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University, is also alarmed by recent actions from Congress that could undermine 50 years of work.
"It is amazing to me that the current Congress is uncoupling food stamps from the farm bill," she says. "The fact that Congress in this moment wants to save money on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans is not progress. It makes me think we're sliding back in time, back into the era of Dickens."
During the summer of 1963, several Swarthmore students made the trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in the march. The September 24, 1963, edition of The Phoenix chronicled their experiences:
"As unusual [sic], Swarthmore students managed to hold their own in Washington on the memorable 28th of August. The national wires missed these scoops, an so the Phoenix brings them to you now..."
"Bill Andrews ['66] reports that he hitched in from Boise, Idaho, in four days - a record time for anyone with a beard, a 12-string guitar, and a two and a half gallon Stetson hat...
"For many groups the day began with a distinctively festive air as the roadweary travellers searched for spots of green around the Washington Monument to unlimber their picnic baskets. ... Half an hour ahead of schedule, masses of people began flowing into the streets. Singing rose on its own accord, in at least once case led by a child in country meeting call and response style....
"For Sandy Warren ['66], marching on Washington didn't end with the usual warm glow and casual conversations comparing wonderful experiences. ... Because she was the only white female on her bus, a reporter from the Cleveland Press interviewed her and took her picture, which appeared in the afternoon edition of the paper... The phone calls [she received for two weeks after] were bitter and irrational and some were terrifying. Her home and her father's office were threatened with bombs. ... Although she wouldn't care to live through it again, Sandy feels that the experience was an educational one for her whole family who had never been exposed to anything of the sort before."
Special thanks to the Friends Historical Library for research assistance.