Footsteps to freedom: New lesson plans inspired by the March on Washington

rustin shanker

Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin and UFT President Al Shanker push through the crowd at a City Hall rally, September 1968. Sam Reiss, photographer. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

If you close your eyes for a minute, you can hear the sound of their footsteps. Marching. Marching. Sneakers. Boots.  Sandals. More than 250,000 people came to Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963 for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And in one week — 50 years later — thousands will be coming to reenact that march and press, yet again, for jobs and civil rights on Saturday, Aug. 24.

School teachers and union members made up large sects of that historical march, and will be stepping up again for this important anniversary march. Many have already signed up to travel in groups and on buses. NYSUT members can contact their NYSUT regional office for transportation information.

This week, it was announced that one of the main organizers of the ’63 march, Bayard Rustin, will be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award, along with the Congressional Medal of Honor. Rustin was an aide and confidant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and devoted his life to civil rights. He was also a strong supporter of New York’s teacher unions.

New lesson plans about the ’63 march, based on interviews with actual organizers of the event, are now available at the AFT’s free online resource for educators, Share My Lesson. The lesson plans were prepared by teachers from the UFT — NYSUT’s largest local — who interviewed 1963 march organizers Rachelle Horowitz and Norman Hill;  Rustin’s partner, Walter Tague; and historians who have written about the march.

The best case study, however, is to be a part of history. Get out your sneakers. Get to the march. In 1963, King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the D.C. march. How many of those dreams have been fulfilled? How many remain to be filled? Your voice and your footsteps are needed to raise the nation’s consciousness about issues important to the working class, educators, students, people of color, farm workers, domestic workers and immigrants. Next weekend’s march is the place to be heard, to be part of the collective seeking change.

Lace up.

Memories of the March

Underwritten in New York state by NYSUT and other partners, PBS stations will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, marking this special occasion with a one-hour documentary on August 27, 2013 at 9pm, and a series of online events and discussions throughout the week. Visit PBS.org and WMHT.org for more information.

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