NOTE TO MEDIA ON INTERVIEWS: To arrange interviews with a few Bay Area teachers who were at the historic march in 1963, contact Mike Myslinski at CTA at 408-921-5769.
BURLINGAME – California educators, labor and civil rights groups are joining in the national remembrance of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 that helped accelerate victories won by the civil rights movement in that decade of defiance and deliverance. In front of more than 200,000 people, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial to conclude that historic day 50 years ago.
While several days of commemorative events are planned in Washington, CTA is honoring these watershed events by partnering with the Oakland-based Equal Justice Society to promote free lesson plans for educators about milestones in civil rights. A Los Angeles re-enactment of the March on Washington Saturday, Aug. 24, is co-sponsored by the local labor movement, while a second commemorative event is scheduled for Oakland.
The recent actions by the U.S. Supreme Court to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965 make it clear that the struggle is far from over, said Dean E. Vogel, president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association.
“This is a time of reflection on how much has been gained and how much work still needs to be done,” Vogel said. “CTA joins the entire labor family and all California families in honoring the meaning of that historic march and its legacy for all of us. Our union’s 150 years of advocacy for students has often meant fighting for justice, fairness and the respect that all people deserve.”
California Teacher Recalls Southern Segregation
Oakland Unified School District teacher Rosenda Thomas will be attending a special Aug. 28 Equal Justice Society theater event honoring civil rights pioneers and the march itself of Aug. 28, 1963. She grew up in the civil rights movement. She is past chair of the CTA Black Caucus, and current national vice chair of the National Education Association’s Black Caucus.
As a little girl in the 1960s, Thomas was living in Berkeley and attending an integrated public school. She recalls the jarring visit to see an aunt in segregated Louisiana when she went to drink from a public water fountain.
“I was told I couldn’t drink from that fountain, that I had to drink from the one that was for colored people. I thought that meant the water was colored. I just felt like something wasn’t right. I didn’t understand that whole concept that black people couldn’t go certain places. That experience stayed with me all of my life.”
Now a veteran, 30-year teacher, she has a poster of Dr. King giving his speech at the March on Washington displayed in her second-grade classroom at Fruitvale Elementary in Oakland. She got to meet his son, Martin Luther King III, at a Congressional Black Caucus meeting in Washington last year. “It was a magical moment. I thanked him for having such a great father. He had an impact not just on the United States, but on the whole world.”
Thomas is a member of the Oakland Education Association, which is helping to promote another commemorative event about the march to be held from 1-2:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, at Mosswood Park, 3612 Webster St., Oakland. It’s sponsored by the Bay Area Black Worker Center, an affiliate of the National Black Worker Center Project.
Fifty summers ago, the scale of the simmering battle for civil rights exploded almost overnight from its frontlines in the defiantly segregated South to the national stage with the historic March on Washington. Peaceful demonstrators demanded justice for African Americans. The California Labor Federation notes in this new essay that the march was also about labor’s fight for economic justice for all.
Vogel said CTA partnered with the Equal Justice Society to “honor the march and keep alive the work and hopes of the civil rights struggle in California.” Now in its 13th year, the Equal Justice Society is dedicated to fighting for constitutional safeguards against discrimination, with the goal of creating a society where “race is no longer a barrier to opportunity.”
The EJS also works to combat implicit bias from racial and gender stereotypes that CTA also reveals and dispels in our training about overcoming unconscious bias.
Free Lesson Plans On Civil Rights Milestones
To highlight the civil rights struggles, and to learn from the past to create a better future, the EJS has launched this website to promote the milestones that occurred in 1963 and after. To make students comprehend what was at stake, and why the struggles against racism still matter, educators can use these free and dynamic lesson plans for high school and middle school classrooms.
The lesson plans commemorate the 50th anniversaries of civil rights milestones looming in the 2013-2015 period. The milestones honored include the March on Washington of August 28, 1963; President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964; the signing by Johnson of the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965; and the signing of the Immigration and Nationality Act on Oct. 3, 1965, by Johnson, at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. The EJS shares concerns about the recent and alarming U.S. Supreme Court ruling that weakens the Voting Rights Act.
With these free lesson plans, students learn about affirmative action, the right to religious freedom, about the fight for racial equality in education, ballot propositions and civil rights, and other key topics.
Saturday’s re-enactment of the march in Los Angeles starts at 8 a.m. in a vacant lot at Marlton Square, 3838 W. Martin Luther King Blvd. and ends at Leimert Park. It’s sponsored by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, NAACP and other groups. More details about more Los Angeles events are at www.sclcsocal.org.
Educators planning on attending in Los Angeles include Mary Jan “M.J.” Roberts, the United Teachers Los Angles/NEA vice president and UTLA/NEA affiliate president.
“Dr. King’s words are as true today as they were 50 years ago when he delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the March on Washington,” Roberts said. “As a union leader and woman of color, I am proud to honor him. I will be there with my brothers and sisters in Los Angeles on Saturday as we re-enact that historic march.”
Bay Area Aug. 28 Tribute to Unsung Heroes
On Aug. 28, the Equal Justice Society in Oakland is hosting an original theatrical event honoring the unsung heroes and heroines who powered the civil rights movement, everyday people who took a stand. The night also features an exhibit of original art work inspired by the civil rights struggles. (Get more information here.) Acclaimed musicians, actors and dancers will pay homage to those who led the early battles, and who made a contribution.
The EJS says the themes will be about contributing to make a difference: “This contribution by everyday people was made through their words and ideas, dedication and hard work, and in some cases by sacrificing their lives. We should never forget that the struggle for equality in the 1960s was a war in many ways as important as the conflict abroad at the time.”
The 325,000-member CTA is affiliated with the 3.2 million-member National Education Association.