The Civil Rights Movement and Our Union

This week marked the 55th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. But did you know that Dr. King’s prepared speech for the march did not originally include the words that we so famously remember? This portion of the speech was improvised after gospel legend Mahalia Jackson shouted from the crowd “…tell them about the dream, Martin!”  

Those words that he spoke about his dream is cited as one of the most powerful speeches in American history and as one of the most important events of the civil rights movement.  

As is still true today, the labor movement was closely linked with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Labor unions, and specifically black labor unions, played an integral role in the planning and execution of the march.  

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and their leader A. Phillip Randolph had been pushing for a march of this magnitude for over a decade and played a key role in making sure that the march was even possible by ensuring a smooth travel experience for the African Americans who attended. The Negro American Labor Council organized thousands of members across the country and the United Auto Workers (UAW) provided most of the funding.  

The following year, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dr. King, his speech and all of the civil and workers’ rights activists who dedicated their time, and in some cases their lives, were directly responsible for pushing the President to sign this, as well as the subsequent Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law.  

WFP was born 

Three years later, in August of 1968, the brothers and sisters of AFGE came together at our national convention and passed a resolution to form a Fair Practices Department to advocate for civil, human, and worker’s rights within our union.  

Today, 50 years later, the Women’s and Fair Practices Departments continue to fight for civil, human and worker’s rights through our many programs such as No Vote Left Behind, Y.O.U.N.G. AFGE, and AFGE Pride programs and representing our members in discrimination cases at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Merit Systems Protection Board, and the grievance procedure.  

As we continue to fight for progress, we look forward to another 50 years of standing up for the rights of AFGE members and working families across the nation.


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