March on Washington

September 21, 2020 by Aburiyeba Amaso

by Rikisha A. Collins

On August 28, 2020, thousands of people converged on the nation’s capital to commemorate the historic March on Washington.[1] Comparing the historical context of the first march with our present moment reveals how the demands of protesters from 50 years ago remain not only unfulfilled but even more urgent in the wake of a global pandemic.

A. Phillip Randolph, leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, originally conceived the history-making demonstration in 1941. Originally dubbed the “March for Jobs”, it sought to protest the racism in the administration of jobs under President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.[2] However, ongoing negotiations between Randolph and Roosevelt delayed the historic march for more than a decade.[3]

In the early 1960s, following the horrific attacks on civil rights demonstrators hosting sit-ins and conducting an economic boycott in Birmingham, Alabama, momentum gathered for another march on Washington.[4] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) begun planning a march for freedom to protest Congress’s failure to adopt substantive civil rights legislation prohibiting segregation and discrimination in education, housing, and employment.[5] To address both the racial and economic inequalities experienced by Black people, A. Phillip Randolph coordinated with Dr. Martin Luther King to combine their efforts and plan the “March for Jobs and Freedom” or “March on Washington.”[6] The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) referred to it as “a march 20 years in the making.”[7] 

On August 28, 1963, over a quarter of a million people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his infamous “I have a Dream” speech, hoisting signs that stated “No U.S. Dough to Help Jim Crow” and “We March for Effective Civil Rights Legislation.”[8] Other speakers included NAACP President Roy Wilks, John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Bayard Rustin, and several others. [9]

Who could anticipate that less than 60 years later, in the midst of a global pandemic, the calls for racial and economic equality would be even more necessary? Why now?

First, the coronavirus pandemic highlights the economic marginalization that people of color disproportionately experience. According to the Pew Research Center, over 20 million people were unemployed in May 2020 due to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, with Black and Latinx people experiencing unemployment at significantly higher rates.[10]  Black and Latinx people who are fortunate to retain their employment are more likely to be essential front-line workers with high exposure risks to Covid-19.[11] Black workers are less likely to have the privilege of working from home or the paid sick leave to take time off.[12] In addition, Black and Latinx essential workers are likely to experience significant wage and benefit gaps, which only exacerbate the effect of Covid-19 on these workers.[13] For instance, Black workers, on average, make only 73% of the wages paid to their white counterparts.[14]

Furthermore, the CDC reports that, based on age adjusted Covid-19 hospitalization rates, Native Americans or Alaskan Natives, Black, and Latinx people are approximately four to five times more likely than White people to contract Covid- 19 and experience severe illness.[15] These disparities in health outcomes are only heightened by the racism and biases against low- income and uninsured people that are pervasive in the health care system.[16]

In addition to these harsh economic realities, Black people are continuously facing state-sanctioned violence.  George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, Riah Milton, Dominque “Rem’mie” Fells, Oluwatoyin Salau and countless others have been murdered due to the internalized and systemic racism of private citizens and police officers. Not only does the criminal justice system fail to adequately prevent or address these killings, it perpetuates the devaluation of Black lives.[17] For example, prosecutors and judges apply harsher charges and sentences to Black and Latinx defendants than people of other races. [18] As a result, over 15 million people in the United States alone have participated in Black Lives Matter marches and demonstrations sparked by the tragic death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, who was suffocated by police officers for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as he cried out “I can’t breathe.”[19] The people have declared that enough is enough. Enough racism. Enough poverty. Enough inequality. The people are demanding accountability and change.

As we reflect on the historic March on Washington and take personal and collective actions to defend the right to jobs and freedom for Black people today, we must acknowledge that despite our progress as a nation, Blacks and other minorities are still fighting for the unfulfilled dreams of those who gathered at the Lincoln memorial 57 years ago to date. We have a duty as a premier journal on poverty law, to use our voices and scholarship to highlight the intersection between race, poverty, and injustice in America, dismantle the systems that promote racial and economic inequality, and fulfill the dream for jobs and freedom. Similar to those who marched on Washington, we write to “remind America the fierce urgency of now.” [20] That now has always been “the time to make real the promises of [true] democracy.”[21]


Happy 57th Anniversary to the March on Washington. May we continue to honor the legacy of those who have lost their lives in the fight for racial and economic justice for all.  We take this time to acknowledge the recent passing of two great leaders in this fight, Representative John Lewis and Reverend Cordy Tinnell “C.T.” Vivian.


[1] See Michael Wines & Aishvarya Kavi, March on Washington 2020: Protesters Hope to Rekindle Spirit of 1963, N.Y. Times (Sept. 21, 2020), 

[2] The March on Washington, NAACP,

[3] Id.

[4] March on Washington, History (Dec. 4, 2019),; see also Birmingham Demonstrations, C.R. Digital Libr., (last visited Aug. 8, 2020),

[5] History, supra note 4.

[6] NAACP, supra note 2.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] History, supra note 4.

[10] Rakesh Kochar, Unemployment rose higher in three months of Covid-19 than it did in two years of the Great Recession, Pew Res. Ctr. (June 11, 2020),

[11] Elise Gould & Valerie Wilson, Black workers face two of the most lethal pretexting conditions for coronavirus-racism and economic inequality, Econ. Pol. Inst. (June 1, 2020),

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Coronavirus Disease 2019 Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups, CDC, (last updated June 25, 2020).

[16]  Gould, supra note11.

[17]  See Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequity in the Criminal Justice System, The Sentencing Project (Feb. 03, 2015), (describing the racial disparities in the criminal justice system caused by “race neutral “criminal justice policies, implicit racial bias, poor resource allocation and criminal justice policies that exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities); see also Patrisse Cullors, Black Lives Matters About More than the Police, ACLU (June 23, 2020), (“When we say Black Lives Matter, we’re talking about more than police brutality. We’re talking about incarceration, health care, housing, education and economics – all the different components of a broader system that has created the reality we see today”).

[18]  Ghandnoosh, supra note 20.

[19]  Larry Buchanan et al., Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest Movement in U.S. History, N.Y. Times (July 14, 2020),

[20] I Have a Dream,” Address Delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Res. and Ed. Inst.,

[21] Id.