When Bayard Rustin addressed the March on Washington in 1963 he said this: "We demand that there be an increase in the national minimum wage so that men may live in dignity." The crowd cheered in response. But after fifty years of commemorating that march, after thousands of reverent re-readings of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, that dream remains deferred - and worse.The minimum wage is lower today than it was in 1963.
Of the people who speak reverently about that march this week, how many will fight for a higher minimum wage so that all people can live in dignity? How many people will remember the full name of that gathering - "the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom"?
Without decent work at decent pay, "freedom" is an empty and hypocritical promise. It's the selfish and false freedom which the powerful offer to the powerless. The word merely invokes the state which a French writer described over a century ago, in which "a poor person is as free to starve under a bridge as a rich person is to ride over it in his carriage."
That's why the marchers of 1963 called for both jobs and freedom. They knew how to distinguish false promises from true justice.
1963: The Shirelles and Jan and Dean were topping the charts. The Fugitive was a hit TV show. John Kennedy was in the White House. Jackie Kennedy's pillbox hats were the height of fashion.And the minimum wage, when adjusted for inflation, was $8.37, a dollar and twelve cents higher than today's rate of $7.25.