Would Beck have supported King's March on Washington?

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

Glenn Beck has repeatedly portrayed the civil rights marches of the 1960s as a movement solely for equal civil rights that did not seek to promote social justice or economic rights. But according to contemporaneous documents, that portrayal is entirely inaccurate with regard to the most famous of those marches: the 1963 March on Washington, at which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his celebrated "I Have a Dream" speech.

Back in May, Beck sought to distinguish the "civil rights marchers" of the 1960s from today's progressives (emphasis added):

Who were the civil rights marchers? They were people with profound belief in God. They were trying to set things right. They weren't crying for social justice, they were crying out for equal justice.

But these people, these mobs -- they're trying to recreate the civil rights thing all over again -- health care, banking reform, housing, the presidency, everything.

Days later, after playing audio of Al Sharpton saying that Dr. King's "dream" was "not to put one black candidate in the White House," but to "make everything equal in everybody's house," Beck said (emphasis added):

BECK: That is not the dream, that is a perversion of the dream. We are the people of the civil rights movement. We are the ones that must stand for civil and equal rights. Equal rights -- justice. Equal justice. Not special justice, not social justice, but equal justice. We are the inheritors and protectors of the civil rights movement. They are perverting it. They're perverting it, and they're doing it intentionally.

Beck defines "social justice" as "the same thing" as "economic justice," "taking money from one group and giving it to another."

Beck has since claimed that his rally this Saturday -- scheduled at the same location and on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington -- will "reclaim the civil rights movement."

The full name of the rally at which Dr. King delivered his historic speech was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Its leaders numbered not only civil rights leaders, but labor leaders as well, including the president of what is now the UAW. And its reported rationale was to push back against "the twin evils of racism and economic deprivation," recommending massive federal intervention in the economy to fight the latter.

Indeed, according to the October 1963 edition of The Crisis, NAACP's official publication, the rally was "first conceived" by A. Philip Randolph, the legendary founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Workers and at the time a vice president of the AFL-CIO. According to Stanford University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, when Randolph first contacted King seeking his support for the March, he described it as a rally "for Negro job rights."

Randolph -- who was a candidate for office in the 1920s on the Socialist Party line and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 -- was the March's first speaker and one of its ten chairmen. His comments, quoted by The Crisis, expose Beck's flawed conception of the March:

"This civil rights revolution is not confined to the Negroes, not is it confined to civil rights."

"Our white allies know that they cannot be free while we are not. And we know that we have no interest in a society in which 6 million black and white people are unemployed and millions more live in poverty."

Likewise, The Crisis provides the following "REASONS FOR THE MARCH":

To redress old grievances and to help resolve an American crisis.

That crisis is born of the twin evils of racism and economic deprivation.

They rob all people, Negro and white, of dignity, self-respect, and freedom. They impose a special burden on the Negro, who is denied the right to vote, economically exploited, refused access to public accommodations, subjected to inferior education, and regulated to substandard ghetto housing.

The NAACP's October 1963 magazine also published "TEN DEMANDS OF MARCHERS." While many of those demands were calls for civil rights legislation seeking to end racial discrimination, the marchers also sought federal legislation to "guarantee all Americans... decent housing," set a "national minimum wage" that would "give all Americans a decent standard of living," and create a "massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers - Negro and white - on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages."

The Crisis' report that the March sought to alleviate the "twin evils of racism and economic deprivation," rather than racism alone, is confirmed by what Stanford's King Institute refers to as the August 1, 1963 announcement for the March. The flyer, issued on behalf of King, Randolph, and other civil rights leaders, urges participation in the march, stating in part (emphasis in the original):

America Faces a crisis...

Millions of Negroes are denied freedom...

Millions of citizens, black and white are unemployed...

Discrimination and economic deprivation plague the nation and rob all people, Negro and white, of dignity and self-respect. As long as black workers are disenfranchised, ill-housed, denied education and economically depressed, the fight of white workers for a decent like will fail.

The announcement goes on to promote several of the March demands published by The Crisis, including its call for a legislated guarantee to "decent housing," a "federal massive works and training program that puts all unemployed workers, black and white, back to work," and a "national minimum wage."

These primary documents are conclusive. But for those who may still have doubts, this is what Martin Luther King III wrote about his father in an August 25 Washington Post op-ed:

The title of the 1963 demonstration, "The Great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," reflected his belief that the right to sit at a lunch counter would be hollow if African Americans could not afford the meal. The need for jobs and shared economic prosperity remains as urgent and compelling as it was 47 years ago. My father's vision would include putting millions of unemployed Americans to work, rebuilding our tattered infrastructure and reforms to reduce pollution and better care for the environment.

Glenn Beck
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.