A group of civil-rights leaders, many of whom were centrally involved in the 1963 March on Washington, called this week for a 20th anniversary revival of that massive demonstration to address once again the questions of jobs, peace and freedom.
The hope, said Coretta Scott King, whose husband, Martin Luther King Jr., led the 1963 march, is to convene "a new coalition of conscience" whose thesis is that "our problems cannot be considered apart from one another, that the problems of unemployment, the arms race and retrenchments of civil-rights enforcement -- all of these problems -- are interrelated."
The idea is a natural, evoking the high point of the American civil rights struggle at a time of growing despair among blacks. The obvious question is whether the leadership group can use the occasion for concrete gains rather than a frustration-building trip down memory lane.
D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, chairman of the steering committee, said the group recognizes the problem and will be careful to avoid it: "We see the 1963 march as a frame of reference to encourage us to be very specific in what we want and to work toward the fulfillment by 1984 of those specific goals."
By next April 4, the 15th anniversary of the death of Dr. King, the coalition expects to have drafted legislation to address the issues of "jobs, peace and freedom." Between then and the Aug. 27 march, it will lobby for that legislation. The march itself is designed to galvanize national support for final passage.
"That's what happened in 1963, and the result was the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965," Fauntroy said. He expects similar success this time, even though the details of the legislative proposals won't even be discussed until a Jan. 13 meeting in Atlanta.
Fauntroy said he expects the basic ideas of the proposals may already be contained in the Congressional Black Caucus budget package that failed to win congressional support earlier this year.
"There are some solid ideas in that package," he said. "Indeed there are three specific elements of the Caucus budget that the Reagan administration has had to lift to handle the failure of its own policies. Sen. Dole lifted $51.9 billion in tax-loophole closings from our proposal, and the president has signed that into law. When the unemployment picture got so bad that there was need for retraining, they lifted Rep. (Gus) Hawkins' bill, and the president has signed that. The infrastructure rebuilding that is the heart of the president's 5-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax was a part of our budget. I would say the prospects for success are good."
That's the jobs part of the three- pronged initiative. The peace element may or may not include a call for a nuclear freeze, but it will almost certainly call for a reduction in military spending and for a commitment from industries that benefit from military spending to undertake job training programs. The freedom aspect will focus on enhancing affirmative action requirements in federal contracts and "probably embrace some features of the women's rights and Indian rights questions," Fauntroy said.