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Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights

by William P. Jones

Pub Date: July 29th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-393-08285-2
Publisher: Norton

An account of the American civil rights movement leading up to the infamous 1963 March on Washington, which “aimed not just to end racial segregation and discrimination in the South but also to ensure that Americans of all races had access to quality education, affordable housing, and jobs that paid a living wage.”

In his latest book, Jones (History/Univ. of Wisconsin; The Tribe of Black Ulysses: African American Lumber Workers in the Jim Crow South, 2005) examines the little-known history of the people and events that spurred the March on Washington. Much of the book focuses on A. Philip Randolph, an African-American trade unionist who dedicated his life to leveraging his organizations’ massive membership rolls for gains in civil rights. In 1941, Randolph organized the first March on Washington—a precursor to the 1963 march—though the march was called off when Randolph achieved his aim: pressuring President Franklin Roosevelt to issue an executive order ensuring that there would be no discriminatory hiring practices within “vocational and training programs for defense production.” The world took note—Randolph realized the importance of power in numbers—and the threat of marching thousands within the nation’s capitol would be repeated 22 years later. While Jones’ book claims to employ the 1963 march as a focal point, the author does not particularly address that march until two-thirds into his work. Jones’ overreliance on historical context allows the story to stray. Perhaps most disappointing, however, is that a book whose subtitle promises to examine the “Forgotten History of Civil Rights” devotes so many pages rehashing well-known information, leaving precious little space for examination of the 1963 March on Washington, as the title and preface implies.

A broad, less-than-enlightening look at an important historical moment in America that historians have been “too eager to dismiss.”