Crowds gather in front of the Washington Monument during the "March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom" in 1963.
August 24, 2013

Did The March On Washington Improve Blacks' Economic Outlook?

This week marks the 50th celebration of the March on Washington — perhaps you've heard something about it? — and it's a little hard to resist the urge to compare the America of 1963 to 2013, to see how they've diverged.

Although the "I have a dream" and the "content of their character" bits tend to get top billing in these remembrances, the event was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — and it's worth noting that the word "jobs" comes before "freedom." Martin Luther King, Jr., the NAACP, and the march's organizers were calling for some very specific economic policies they thought would improve the material well-being of black folks in America.

Well, according to a report released by the Census Bureau on the eve of the march's anniversary, the median income of blacks has nearly doubled, the poverty rate has fallen by 14 percent. Twenty-six percent of blacks had high school diplomas in 1964; 85 percent did in 2012. And over that span, the number of black folks who completed four years of college jumped from 4 percent to 21 percent.

But despite those dramatic gains, the economic picture over the last 50 years for blacks has been a mixed bag: incontrovertible, substantial progress — a lot of it due in part to policies the march helped enshrine — while some troubling disparities remain stubbornly in place.

Here's some of what the original marchers called for, and here's what happened since then.

A $2 Per Hour Minimum Wage Nationwide

One of the tent poles of the March on Washington was an increase in the federal minimum wage, which was $1.25 in September 1963. That would be equal to about $9.25 in 2013 dollars, two dollars higher than the current federal minimum wage. The march organizers wanted a wage floor of $2 an hour. But two dollars in 1963 would have been more than $14.80 in 2013 — more than double the current federal minimum wage, which hasn't been raised since 2009. It's pretty safe to say that that goal has gone unrealized.

(In case you were wondering, the state of Washington's minimum wage is the highest in the country — $9.19 — and it comes the closest to holding constant with the actual 1963 goal of the march's organizers.)

A Federal Law Prohibiting Discrimination In Public Or Private Hiring

Another major aim for the march was a law that barred discrimination in public and private hiring. Two years later, in 1965, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was up and running, and was granted the power to sue employers who discriminated against applicants or employees. That's a definite win for the marchers there.

"In the 1960s, there were a number of occupations that blacks just couldn't get — you were categorically blocked," said Algernon Austin, an analyst at the Economic Policy Institute. "Now you can see blacks in almost every occupation — including in the White House."

But fighting discrimination is like trying to inoculate against a mutating disease: The socially and legally sanctioned discrimination of the 1960s gave way to stealthier-but-still-dangerous forms of bias.

"It's still the case that while there's little categorical exclusion, we still see evidence that employers prefer white workers," Austin said. He pointed to much-cited research that found that people with "black-sounding" names were less likely to be hired for jobs than people without them, even when their qualifications were about the same, and that a white man with a criminal record applying for a job was more likely to receive a response from an employer than a black man without one.

The march's organizers also hoped to put a dent in the double-digit unemployment rate among blacks (10 percent). That figure hasn't improved in the 50 years since; indeed, the black unemployment rate over the last half-century — 11.6 percent — suggests that black America is operating in a permanent economic recession. And since 1963, the average rate of black unemployment has hovered at more than twice the unemployment for whites.

(During the recent recession, black unemployment crept up to nearly 15 percent.)

Those dismal numbers might still understate just how bad the employment situation is. "To be counted as unemployed, you have to be actively looking for work," Austin said. " In communities where it's very difficult for people to find work, people drop out of the labor work because their chances are so small." In other words, there are untold numbers of unemployed black folks we've just ceased to count.

This is one of the big reasons why the median household income for African Americans remains so far from parity with whites, despite some progress. "When you're unemployed, you're only losing wealth or you're going into debt," Austin said.

It's really hard to separate out the racial disparities in household wealth from America's housing policy. Blacks were cut off from the avenues to home ownership that helped create the white middle class in the middle of the century — they were barred from many colleges and buying homes in new suburbs that whites could take advantage of with the G.I. Bill — and so it's been a game of catch-up ever since.

Household wealth for blacks was on an upward trend for a stretch in the 1980s and 1990s, thanks to growing numbers of black homeowners.

And then the housing bubble burst.

Places like Prince George's County, the wealthiest majority-black county in the country, were rocked by the housing crisis. Thousands of black people lost their homes to foreclosure.

Black people with excellent credit were steered toward subprime loans, according to the Center for Responsible Lending. "There's also evidence to suggest that housing segregation played a role," Austin said. "The more segregated a community, the more [likely there was] to be subprime lending in the community."

In 2011, after the havoc wrought by the crisis, the percentage of black people who owned homes was essentially unchanged from 1970, the earliest year the data was available. And three decades of black economic progress essentially vanished in smoke.

Which brings us to another major peg of the march.

Immediate Elimination Of School Segregation

Though the Supreme Court barred segregation in schools since Brown v. Board of Education, it was still the norm in practice eight years later when the March on Washington rolled around. Fifty years on, after white flight and busing, American schools remain deeply segregated.

"Laws that sentenced blacks to third-class educations — those were the easy targets," Andrew Rotherham, a co-founder of the education think tank Bellwether Education Partners, told the Atlantic last year. He said that American American schools are as segregated as they were in the late 1960s. "What's driving segregation now is housing patterns, and that's much more difficult to solve. It's also not necessarily a problem you can solve with education."

According to a report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, three-quarters of all black students attend schools that are majority nonwhite, and more than a third attend schools where white students make up 10 percent or less of the school population.

Maybe surprisingly, the South had become the most desegregated region in the country. But the UCLA researchers said the South was becoming resegregated more quickly than anywhere else in the nation.

The educational outcomes of black children and white children remain glaring. Whites are nearly twice as likely to graduate from college than blacks, and that disparity informs, perpetuates, explains many of those messy, aforementioned issues like unemployment, earning potential, and housing choices.

The whole exercise of checking the march's platform can seem obvious and ham-handed, and many folks would argue that this weekend should be about celebrating the hard-earned freedoms catalyzed by the march and its moment. But its planners called it the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom for a reason.

Evan Peach backs the steam engine into place on Friday morning in downtown Urbana.
(Sean Powers/WILL)
August 23, 2013

Urbana Sweetcorn Festival Welcomes New Steam Engine

The city of Urbana expects to hand out nearly 30,000 ears of corn this weekend at the annual Urbana Sweetcorn Festival. One addition is the new steam engine that will boil all that corn.

Neal Drummer of Mendota arrived in Urbana on Friday morning with his 1920’s locomotive. A long, narrow pipe carries the steam from the engine to a tub filled with water and corn. Illinois Public Media’s Sean Powers caught up Drummer and Evan Peach, who are operating the locomotive.

The Urbana Sweetcorn Festival kicks off at 5pm on Friday, and continues Saturday from 11am until 11pm.


Richard Nixon
(AP Photo/File)
August 21, 2013

Tapes Show Richard Nixon As Watergate Scandal Loomed

Two future US presidents called Richard Nixon in support after he gave a speech on the Watergate scandal amid a staff exodus, newly released tapes show.

The calls are among the final installment of released recordings from the Nixon administration.

Nixon ended his Oval Office taping system a year before he resigned.

The recordings are the last of a total of 3,000 hours of tape released by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Another 700 hours remain restricted by national security and privacy concerns, but the archive says they will now be reviewed in order to see what can be released.

'Great pride'

The tapes cover the time period between 9 April and 12 July 1973, the day before the existence of Nixon's secret recording system was made public to a Senate panel probing the scandal.

It includes the day three senior White House officials resigned over the affair and another was sacked.

Three days earlier, Nixon press secretary Ron Zeigler can be heard briefing the 37th president about the possibility of further serious revelations by the Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward.

The calls from the future presidents came on 30 April, after Nixon had made a public address over the growing Watergate scandal.

Ronald Reagan, governor of California at the time, told Nixon the speech had been the right one to make.

"I just want you to know, we watched and my heart was with you," he said. "I know what this must have been in all these days and what you've been through.

"You can count on us, we're still behind you out here and I wanted you to know that you're in our prayers."

George H W Bush called the same evening. The newly appointed chairman of the Republican National Committee said he had watched the speech with "great pride".

Nixon complained to Mr Bush about the reaction from broadcasters.

"The folks may understand," Nixon said, before adding later: "To hell with the commentators."

'Change the world'

Despite the crisis engulfing him, Nixon remained actively engaged in global diplomacy.

At one point - in discussions with an aide - Nixon can be heard describing the Chinese as "the ablest people in the world".

The president can also be heard holding a lengthy Oval Office conversation with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev before a June 1973 summit.

Nixon expresses a close interest in ties with China - a relationship he at one point describes as the "key to world peace".

In the hour-long one-on-one, assisted by an interpreter, the two leaders chatted about personal topics, including their families.

"We must recognise.... while we will naturally in negotiations have some differences, it is essential that those two nations, where possible, work together," Nixon said to Brezhnev.

"If we decide to work together, we can change the world," he said. "That's my attitude as we enter these talks.''

Previous releases show the president as a paranoid man who was obsessed with the Kennedy family.

He considered Senator Ted Kennedy such a political threat that he ordered surveillance in the hope of catching him in an affair.

Nixon remains the only US president to resign.

Edith Lee-Payne
(Rowland Scherman)
August 21, 2013

At 1963 March, A Face In The Crowd Became A Poster Child

For the month of August, Morning Edition and The Race Card Project are looking back at a seminal moment in civil rights history: the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic "I Have A Dream Speech" on Aug. 28, 1963. Approximately 250,000 people descended on the nation's capital from all over the country for the mass demonstration.

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Yuri Kochiyama
(Courtesy of the Kochiyama family/UCLA Asian American Studies Center)
August 19, 2013

The Japanese-American Internee Who Met Malcolm X

The brief friendship of Malcolm X and Yuri Kochiyama began close to 50 years ago with a handshake.

Diane Fujino, chairwoman of the Asian-American studies department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, details the moment in her biography Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama.

Kochiyama and her eldest son, 16-year-old Billy, were arrested along with hundreds of other people, mainly African-Americans, during a protest in Brooklyn, N.Y., in October 1963.

"[They were] in this packed courthouse," Fujino says. "[There were] a lot of activists who [were] waiting their hearing on the civil disobedience charges."

In walks Malcolm X, who was quickly mobbed by adoring activists.

Kochiyama described the scene in a Democracy Now! interview in 2008. "I felt so bad that I wasn't black, that this should be just a black thing," she recalled. "But the more I see them all so happily shaking his hands and Malcolm so happy, I said, 'Gosh, darn it! I'm going to try to meet him somehow.' "

Eventually, Kochiyama called out to Malcolm X, "Can I shake your hand?"

"What for?" he demanded.

"To congratulate you for giving direction to your people," she finally mustered.

Malcolm X smiled and extended his hand. Kochiyama remembered how she could hardly believe she was meeting the most prominent black nationalist leader of the time.

'A Nail That Sticks Out'

Kochiyama's friendship with Malcolm X fascinated playwright Tim Toyama, who wrote a one-act play called Yuri and Malcolm X.

"Malcolm X's movement was probably the last thing you would imagine a Japanese-American person, especially a woman, to be involved with," he says.

Toyama's father and Kochiyama are cousins and nisei, children of Japanese immigrants. They were part of a generation that was rounded up by the American government and forced to live behind barbed wire during World War II.

"There's a Japanese saying that a nail that sticks out gets hammered down," Toyama explains. "I think most Japanese Americans, especially nisei, did not want to stick out, especially after the war."

Kochiyama couldn't help but stick out. She lived in New York City housing projects among black and Puerto Rican neighbors. Kochiyama began participating in sit-ins and inviting Freedom Riders to speak at weekly open houses in the family's apartment.

From Activist To Radical

Audee Kochiyama-Holman, Yuri's eldest daughter, remembers feeling shy around the constant flow of visitors in their home, where her mother taped newspaper clippings to the walls and dinner plates often shared space on the kitchen table with piles of leaflets.

"Our house felt like it was the movement 24/7," Kochiyama-Holman recalls.

In the summer of 1963, a Kochiyama family vacation included a visit to Birmingham, Ala., to see charred houses and storefronts left behind by racial protests. The Kochiyamas also visited the 16th Street Baptist Church weeks before a bombing there killed four black girls.

"It was one of the first news stories in the civil rights movement that our mother sat us down to talk about," Kochiyama-Holman says.

The growing momentum of the civil rights movement and meeting Malcolm X in 1963 radicalized Kochiyama, who became more interested in black nationalism. FBI files later described her as a "ring leader" of black nationalists and a "Red Chinese agent."

The Final Meeting

Kochiyama and Malcolm X stayed in touch through postcards and even a visit to the Kochiyamas' apartment. Their last meeting was on Feb. 21, 1965 — just 16 months after their first handshake — in New York City's Audubon Ballroom.

That Sunday afternoon, gunmen killed Malcolm X moments after he approached the podium to address a weekly meeting of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which Malcolm X founded after he was expelled from the Nation of Islam.

Most of the audience in the ballroom fell to the ground after the gunfire, crawling away for safety. But Kochiyama headed toward the injured Malcolm X, who was lying on the floor.

"I just picked up his head and just put it on my lap," Kochiyama said in the Democracy Now! interview. "I said, 'Please, Malcolm! Please, Malcolm! Stay alive!' "

The moment was captured in a photo in Life magazine in 1965. She's the unidentified Asian woman peering worriedly through horn-rimmed glasses at a soon-to-be lifeless Malcolm X. His blood-soaked shirt is open, exposing his bullet-riddled body.

Illness and age have slowed down Kochiyama, now 92, drastically over the past couple of years, her eldest daughter says.

But for decades after her brief friendship with Malcolm X, Kochiyama remained committed to causes in the black, Latino and Asian-American communities.

In 1988, she and other Japanese-American internees, including her late husband Bill, celebrated the signing of the Civil Liberties Act. It was a formal government apology that provided reparations to World War II internees — and a milestone Kochiyama helped to achieve 25 years ago this month.


Viola Liuzzo carries her shoes while walking with other civil rights activist
(Courtesy of the Liuzzo family)
August 12, 2013

Killed For Taking Part In 'Everybody's Fight'

In an obscure corner of Detroit, there's a battered playground honoring a civil rights martyr. It has an overgrown baseball field, some missing swings and on a broken fence, a worn, wooden sign.

"It's all tore up and definitely could use at least a paint job," says Sally Liuzzo-Prado. She is referring to the sign with her mother's name on it.

Liuzzo-Prado was 6 when her mother, Viola Liuzzo, was killed by Ku Klux Klan members following a voting rights march in Alabama in 1965. Liuzzo was the only white woman protester to die in the civil rights movement.

The housewife and mother of five had been an active NAACP member in Detroit and was horrified at the violence she saw inflicted upon black protesters on television. So when she heard of a four-day, 54-mile walk from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., to support voting rights, she packed a bag. Liuzzo told her husband: "It's everybody's fight." She kissed her children goodbye and began the drive south.

"She called us every night. I learned how to cursive write and she was so excited. She told me to write my name and put it on her dresser and she'd see it when she got home," says Liuzzo-Prado.

Led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Viola Liuzzo and thousands of other marchers walked to Montgomery, where King spoke on the Capitol steps, telling the crowd that freedom was imminent:

"How long? Not Long! Because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long!" King said in a now-famous speech.

That night, Liuzzo, tired but exhilarated, shuttled local marchers back to their homes. A car filled with Ku Klux Klan members tried to force her off the road. Finally, they pulled alongside Liuzzo's car and shot her in her head. The 39-year-old died instantly.

King attended Liuzzo's funeral and comforted her family, but not everyone agreed that she was a hero. A group of people tried to break down the Liuzzos' door, and a cross was burned on their lawn. What Sally Liuzzo-Prado remembers most vividly is the morning she returned to first grade after her mother's death.

She was wearing her saddle shoes, which her older sister, Penny, had polished.

"It was pouring rain that day. And I looked down at my saddle shoes and the white polish was coming off," she says. "These people — grown-ups — lined the street and were throwing rocks at me, calling me 'N-lover's baby.' I didn't know what that meant. I thought it was because of my shoes."

Sally Liuzzo-Prado stands in a park dedicated to her mother, Viola Liuzzo, a civil rights activist who was killed in Alabama. (J. Carlisle Larsen /WDET)

Anthony Liuzzo, a Teamsters union official, withdrew his daughter from the school and had her transferred. For years, he drove her to and from school every day. Liuzzo-Prado says her father also hired two armed guards to watch their house day and night for two years.

Then, there were the rumors: After Viola Liuzzo's death, there were newspaper reports that Liuzzo had gone south to meet and have sex with black men. Another rumor claimed she was a drug addict. And the July 1965 issue of The Ladies' Home Journal published a poll that asked if readers thought Liuzzo was a good mother. Fifty-five percent didn't. ("I feel sorry for what happened," said one woman in a focus group convened to talk about the Liuzzo story, "but I feel she should have stayed home and minded her own business.")

The family couldn't figure out why anyone would say such things. Then, when the Klansmen were put on trial for Liuzzo's death, they learned that a key witness was a paid FBI informant who had been in the Klansmen's car. Years later, the family sought to have Liuzzo's FBI file opened. They finally succeeded, and that's when they discovered that the rumors about her had come directly from J. Edgar Hoover. The family believes the FBI director was desperate to divert attention from the agency by smearing her.

The smears took an awful toll. Anthony Liuzzo became a heavy drinker and later died. The Liuzzo children all moved away. Sally Liuzzo-Prado, the youngest, was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. But two years ago, Liuzzo-Prado elected to return to her hometown.
Liuzzo was shot to death by Ku Klux Klan members following a voting rights march in Alabama.

"The older I got, the more I realized there was a lot of work to be done in Detroit still," hse says. "And, you know, it's not so much just for her to have recognition. It's to right the wrongs done to her by J. Edgar Hoover."

In May, Liuzzo-Prado accepted the Ford Freedom Humanitarian Award in her mother's name, an honor given only to one other person — Nelson Mandela. For Liuzzo-Prado, it was a deeply satisfying moment. But even more satisfying for her was a conversation she remembers having with another martyr's child — Martin Luther King III — when both attended the dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery.

"He pulled me aside, said, 'I wanted you to know something: 30 years ago, my dad couldn't be in this ballroom. And today you and I are here together, and it's because of your mother.' And I've never forgotten that."

Sally Liuzzo-Prado holds tight to that memory. She hopes that eventually, her mother will be honored with a new park in a more central place, so everyone can appreciate the Viola Liuzzo her family cherished. And she hopes there's a statue there, based on the last photo that was taken of her mother: It shows a determined woman, walking purposefully, shoes in hand.


Ron and Cecil Bridgewater  and Don Gerard
(Sean Powers/WILL)
August 09, 2013

Champaign Civil Rights Icon Erma Bridgewater Honored

A civil rights icon from Champaign was honored on Friday during a street naming ceremony.

Erma Bridgewater died last spring at the age of 99.

She often talked about the challenges she faced as an African American woman during the formative years of the Civil Rights Movement.

“She told me she was never allowed to eat in restaurants or things like that, so she had to find her own ways of doing things,” said Cecil Bridgewater, one of Erma’s sons. “But with that she always remained committed to the community.”

Part of Fourth and Wright Streets in Champaign are now Honorary Erma Bridgewater Way.

"It's one of those historic Champaign names that almost gives you chills when you hear it," Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said at the dedication ceremony. "I'm always proud when I hear the name Bridgewater when I'm away from Champaign, and when I'm in Champaign it always makes me feel exceptionally proud to be a part of this community."

Speaking at the dedication ceremony, the Rev. Steve Gilbert said it is a fitting tribute for a woman who lived her life to the fullest.

“I want to say this to the young people,” Gilbert said. “As long as you got a push, you got a purpose, and you ought to be about that purpose and that's what Ms. Bridgewater was about.”

Bridgewater was one of the first black students to attend Champaign’s Lincoln Elementary, and she went on to graduate from the University of Illinois. For 25 years, she served as director of the Douglass Community Center, and she was a member of the Bethel Choir for more than 80 years.

“She was so active just like with anything she did,” added longtime friend Ebbie Cook. “It didn’t seem like she had an evil spot in her body.”

Jack Hansan, who made signs for the March on Washington, and his wife Ethel now live in Northern Virginia.
(Erica Yoon/NPR)
August 05, 2013

To Join '63 March On Washington: 'Like Climbing A Mountain'

For the Month of August, Morning Edition and The Race Card Project are looking back at a seminal moment in civil rights history: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his iconic "I Have A Dream Speech" on Aug. 28, 1963. Approximately 250,000 people descended on the nation's capitol from all over the country for the mass demonstration.

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Lincoln Tomb.
(Sector001/Wikimedia Commons)
August 05, 2013

Lincoln Tomb Closes For Repairs

Abraham Lincoln's tomb in Springfield is slated to close for renovations starting in October.

The city's Convention and Visitor's Bureau said the renovations will take place on the underground part of the monument, usually open to the public. It is not certain yet when renovations will begin, but the bureau has stopped scheduling tours from October until April.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency's Chris Wills said there's about $700,000 worth of work to be done:
"For instance because of water seepage over the years, some of the paint in the tomb has begun to peel, and so that needs to be fixed," Wills said.

The state is covering the cost of the repairs. The tomb, at the Oak Ridge Cemetery on Springfield's north-west side, is the resting place of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their four children.

Wills said the hope is for the tomb to be reopened in time for the anniversary of Lincoln's birthday on Feb. 12, 2014.

John Kalymon is one of at least 10 suspected Nazi war criminals who remains in the United States despite attempts to deport him.
Paul Sancya/AP
July 30, 2013

Nazi War Criminals Reportedly Live In Limbo In U.S.

At least 10 people who are suspected of committing Nazi war crimes have never been deported from the U.S., despite losing the American citizenship they gained when they immigrated, the AP reports.

A main cause of the holdup is simple: Their European homelands don't want them back.

"In the 34 years since the Justice Department created an office to find and deport Nazi suspects, the agency has initiated legal proceedings against 137 people. Less than half — at least 66 — have been removed by deportation, extradition or voluntary departure," according to the AP.

The news agency's review of Justice data on Nazi war criminals found that men such as Vladas Zajanckauskas, currently living in Sutton, Mass.; Theodor Szehinskyj of West Chester, Penn.; and Jakiw Palij of New York City were in a legal limbo that allows them to collect public benefits in the U.S. as their cases linger.

Another suspect who remains in the United States is John (Ivan) Kalymon, who lives in Troy, Mich. — despite a 2011 Board of Immigration Appeals ruling that affirmed his deportation order.

But the process of deporting the suspects is often frustrated by other countries' refusal to accept them, several experts in the field tell the AP, especially in cases where the question of jurisdiction is a murky one.

And the AP article by Amy Forliti and Randy Herschaft finds that in some cases, U.S. officials decline to deport the suspects due to health concerns, or because of the suspects' cooperation in a wider inquiry. At least 20 suspects have died while their cases were still pending.

The case of Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk attracted widespread attention in recent years, as the former Ohio resident — a native of Ukraine — was eventually convicted of more than 28,000 counts of being an accessory to murder, for his role as a guard at a prison camp in Poland.

At 91, Demjanjuk "died a free man in a nursing home in southern Germany, where he had been released pending his appeal," as NPR's David Barnett reported last March.

It seems that no current Justice employees would speak on the record with Forliti and Herschaft about their findings. But in a recent discussion of its efforts to prosecute and deport war criminals, the federal agency noted that it had "won cases against 107 individuals who assisted in Nazi persecution.

"In addition," the Justice Department said in 2011, "180 suspected Axis persecutors who sought to enter the United States have been blocked from doing so as a result of the department's 'watchlist' program."

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