AFT group develops lessons on ’63 ‘Jobs and Freedom’ march

by Michael Hirsch

aft-group-lessons-on-freedom-march-1

The massive 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom represented the high-water mark of the civil rights movement.

The rally was the culmination of decades of organizing and a spur to all the new social movements that followed. It showed ordinary people making history.

Though not all its aims were met — domestic workers and farm workers, who are largely people of color, are

Bayard Rustin (left) and

Bayard Rustin (left) outside the march headquarters in NYC

still not protected by federal law — Congress, in the years that followed, began to address racial discrimination in jobs, voting, housing and public accommodations.

Telling the story of that epochal march to public school students is a project of the Albert Shanker Institute, a think tank supported by the American Federation of Teachers, which is creating a set of lesson plans on the occasion of the march’s 50th anniversary.

Leo Casey, the executive director of the Shanker Institute and a past UFT vice president, called the march “a teachable moment in which we can introduce students to a richer and deeper understanding of the African-American freedom struggle by examining the march’s call for ‘jobs and freedom,’ the alliance between the labor and civil rights movements and the extraordinary lives of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the two key organizers of the march.”

Stephen Lazar of Harvest Collegiate HS in Manhattan participates in the conversa

Stephen Lazar of Harvest Collegiate HS in Manhattan participates in the conversati

Some one dozen New York City teachers who are helping to write the lesson plans attended an initial training session on Feb. 28 at UFT headquarters, where a panel of speakers who played a role in the march urged them to remember that the march was about not only winning equal rights under the law, but also job creation.

Norman Hill, a march organizer and longtime director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, said the march’s key demands — not yet realized — included “initiating a federal program of decent wages for blacks and whites, a national minimum wage act, a broadened Fair Labor Standards Act and a federal full-employment act.”

Rachelle Horowitz, a coordinator of the march and later AFT political director, told teachers that “Randolph was the first to argue for mass action” and then Rustin added “the dimension of nonviolence” as a movement tactic.

Shayshana Gourdine of the UFT’s Division of Non-Public Schools, Brooklyn.

Shayshana Gourdine of the UFT’s Division of Non-Public Schools, Brooklyn.

Shayshana Gourdine of the UFT’s Division of Non-Public Schools, Brooklyn.

Velma Hill, a founder and chief organizer of the UFT’s paraprofessional chapter, underscored how Rustin understood “that those people who were subjects of discrimination had to be part of the struggle.”

Hill added, “I learned from Randolph and Rustin that you can’t have freedom without economic justice.”

The lesson plans, when completed, will be posted on the AFT’s Share My Lesson website at www.sharemylesson.com.

Michael Hirsch is a New York-based labor writer and union staffer. He is a regular contributor to Talking Union.  He recently retired as a writer and editor for the UFT (United Federation of Teachers).  This piece was his last for the the UFT.

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