This week marks the beginning of Black History Month, a time to celebrate the central role of African Americans in U.S. history and the achievements of the civil rights movement.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. In 1965, a year after the Civil Rights Act was passed, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference chose Selma, Alabama, as the location to highlight its effort to register African American voters in the face of Governor George Wallace and segregationist repression. Together with the Dallas County Voters League and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the activists organized protests that led to a march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery to highlight the desire of African American voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
In spite of being attacked by state troopers and the police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, Dr. King and the marchers finally reached Montgomery on March 25, where Dr. King delivered his “Our God Is Marching On!” speech in front of tens of thousands of supporters.
“Let us therefore continue our triumphant march to the realization of the American dream,” Dr. King said….“Let us march on poverty until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. March on poverty until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns in search of jobs that do not exist. Let us march on poverty until wrinkled stomachs in Mississippi are filled, and the idle industries of Appalachia are realized and revitalized, and broken lives in sweltering ghettos are mended and remolded.”
The organizing effort to register voters and the participation of Dr. King and other prominent leaders in the historic march had a lasting impact and the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote to all African Americans, was passed months later on August 6, 1965. Despite these victories, the fight for social and economic justice continues as the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow and social unrest continues to rise. In the retail sector alone, which is an important employer of minorities and women, too many workers are struggling to survive in low-wage, part-time jobs with little to no benefits. The assault on workers’ rights continues to persist, and in many cases, retail workers who want to stick together to bargain for better wages and benefits are threatened, intimidated and sometimes fired by their employers.
The march goes on and the fight for social and economic justice in the retail industry and in our communities continues.