The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is about unfinished business, according to Vern Trimble and his colleagues.
The Aug. 28, 1963, march helped prompt Congress to pass landmark laws extending civil and voting rights to minorities. But many states in recent years have made it harder for people to vote, Trimble said, and many have approved legislation designed to weaken unions.
In the last 50 years, this country has come a long way and made plenty of changes, Trimble said Tuesday. We’ve got to pull the rest of the people along for the next 50 years. It’s happening. It’s slow.
Trimble is chairman of the Civil and Human Rights Committee for United Auto Workers Local 2209. The union at the General Motors truck assembly plant in southwest Allen County represents 4,200 workers and 2,000 retirees.
Trimble’s committee has arranged for two buses to carry about 100 members of Local 2209 to march anniversary rallies Saturday in Washington. Trimble and others emphasized that the trip is not for nostalgic purposes.
We see how far we’ve come, the committee’s Roy Munguia said, but (the march anniversary) is also another kick in the pants to see how far we have to go as well.
Committee member Roxanna Lucas agreed: It’s not over. We still need to fight for civil rights.
Today’s battles are for equal pay across the genders, greater access to health care and better job opportunities and paychecks, the committee members said. They see the participation by UAW locals in the commemorative march as a continuation of the union’s historic role in advocating for jobs, justice and freedom, as Lucas and Trimble put it.
Best known for Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech, the 1963 march that attracted 250,000 people to Washington was organized in part to protest racial discrimination by employers. The official title was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Goals included increasing the federal minimum wage to $2 an hour. Congress raised the rate from $1.15 to $1.25 that year, but it would not reach $2 until 1974.
Among King’s partners in Washington and at earlier marches was Walter Reuther, the storied leader of the UAW at the time.
King had given a version of his I Have a Dream speech at the June 23, 1963, Walk to Freedom in Detroit, Reuther’s base.
By some estimates, the Motor City march drew more people than the original March on Washington. (Lucas attended the 50th anniversary march in Detroit.)
On Saturday, Local 2209 members will join tens of thousands of people from around the country for rallies at the Lincoln and King memorials, both on the National Mall in Washington.
Fort Wayne/Allen County NAACP Branch 3049 also is sponsoring a bus, and Fort Wayne Urban League President Jonathan Ray said he and other members of the Urban League board of directors will travel to the event on their own.
Scheduled speakers include civil rights leader and media commentator Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. Lewis, 73, spoke at the first march as a civil rights activist. Another march and more speakers, including President Barack Obama, are scheduled for Aug. 28, the actual anniversary.
Perhaps as important as Saturday’s march, speeches and rallies for UAW Local 2209 will be the dialogue on the bus coming and going, Trimble said, the fellowship on the bus, the memories on the bus, the recognition of our local union supporting this.
He said the journey should increase awareness of current civil rights issues and instill a greater sense of responsibility for them, especially among younger participants.
The next generation has got to carry it on, Trimble said. If they are discouraged, if they don’t stand up, it’s going to stagnate, it’s going to stop.
The bus passengers will range in age from their 20s into their 60s. On Saturday, each will wear a red T-shirt with Realize the Dream in black letters next to King’s image on the front and the UAW logo and Local 2209 identification on the back.