We are very happy to announce that two NYU Press titles have been selected for inclusion in the 2014 AAUP Book, Jacket & Journal Show! The show recognizes meritorious achievements in the design and production of books, jacket, and covers by members of the university press community. Here are the honored titles.
NYU Press is thrilled to announce that two of our books are among the winners of the 2013 National Jewish Book Awards, selected by the Jewish Book Council!
Congratulations to Hasia Diner and Gennady Estraikh, editors of 1929, and Melissa R. Klapper, author of Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace!
WINNER in the Anthologies & Collections category
1929: Mapping the Jewish World
WINNER in the Women’s Studies category
Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women’s Activism, 1890-1940
Long-time South African educator and President of the New Unity Movement, R. O. Dudley had a quote that he used when speaking of various iconic South African struggle leaders: He “had arms, not wings.” It is a phrase that we should remember when speaking of the late Nelson Mandela, but unfortunately, press coverage in the United States as well as throughout the world has turned Madiba into a Hallmark greeting card figure.
And while Mandela’s role as a freedom fighter and the major force for reconciliation in the new democratic South Africa should be honored and celebrated, we must remember that we are talking about a complex revolutionary, and also a complex politician.
Nelson Mandela worked with comrades throughout the struggle and beyond. Internal colonialism, racism, class disparity, and extreme oppression were part of South African history long before the apartheid regime came to power in the late 1940s. Nelson Mandela collaborated with other activists, black, Indian, coloured, and white, at Wits University in Johannesburg and it was within this grouping, as well as from his fellow African National Congress Youth League leaders, that he came to a belief in nonracialism. I was asked recently if he was criticized for promoting nonracialism during the struggle and I answered that he actually came late to the party. He clearly stated that it was the struggle commitment of fellow students at Wits—Ruth First, Joe Slovo, Bram Fischer, Ishmael Meer, Norman Levy, J.N. Singh and others, as well as his close friends, and struggle stalwarts Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo—that changed his view on the struggle. A view that went from African Unity and only fighting racism to a belief that imperialism, class disparity, and racism were all connected.No one argues with Mandela‘s leadership in the African National Congress during the fifties and through the 1964 Rivonia Trial where he and seven comrades were sentenced to life imprisonment. The key word here, though, is comrades, because Nelson Mandela always worked with other people in the struggle, during his time at Robben Island Prison, and of course in both the negotiations with the apartheid regime and the forming of the first South African democratic government in 1994. President Barack Obama was totally in error when he said that Mandela’s life proved the power of one man with courage and vision could change the world.
Countless are the continuing statements on Nelson Mandela as a man of peace and love and forgiveness—none of them are untrue yet they are clearly only a partial portrait as Nelson Mandela was part of a struggle fighting against what Bishop Desmond Tutu often refers to as a “pigmentocracy.” And an organized pigmentocracy at that. Throughout the 1950s beginning with the Defiance Campaign against the magnification of racist legislation, to the Freedom Charter calling for democracy for all South Africans, to the 1956 Treason Trial, the mission of Mandela and his struggle comrades was to change the South African government. However Gandhian the strategy and tactics of this part of the struggle took, the government oppression became more harsh, more violent, and more oppressive. Thus, by 1962, for Nelson Mandela, who had gone underground, as well as his comrades, it could not be all peace and love. Before he was arrested that year Mandela was clandestinely interviewed by British journalist Brian Widlake.
If the government reaction is to crush by naked force our non-violent demonstrations we will have to seriously reconsider our tactics. In my mind, we are closing a chapter on this question of non-violent policy.
Mandela was actually asking the apartheid regime, once again, to question their own policy of harsh, violent, repression. And what he was proposing at this point was not actually armed struggle, but rather armed propaganda—attacks on government facilities in an attempt to show, first the people, and then the government, that the apartheid regime was not invulnerable.
At this point, 1962, armed propaganda didn’t do much to reach either goal, and although Mandela, in partnership with Joe Slovo, had written a document for armed struggle, called Operation Mayibuye, and cadres of struggle soldiers were sent out of South Africa for military training, the arrests at Rivonia crippled the struggle for almost a decade. Yet even at trial Nelson Mandela was a revolutionary—his message certainly wasn’t peace and love. His now famous speech in the court deserves repeating.
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Mandela went to Robben Island prison in 1964 and would not see freedom until 1990. In fact, his face was not even seen in a photograph again until 1988—representation of the totality of apartheid. His interactions in prison, however, were both revolutionary and human, and in spite of the harsh conditions he faced he was involved in political conversations across the boundaries of competing struggle organizations and was very much part of what prisoners referred to as Robben Island: Our University.
Nelson Mandela spent the struggle years in prison and it was comrades like Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, Pallo Jordan, Ronnie Kasrils, and younger MK soldiers that continued the struggle-in-exile. Within South Africa black people on the ground and the in-country exemplification of the ANC, the United Democratic Front, kept the struggle alive. But by the mid-eighties Nelson Mandela was part of the conversations with the apartheid regime and he was released in 1990. It must be remembered that South Africa did not have a successful armed revolution, but rather a negotiated settlement. And this is where Nelson Mandela becomes a politician.
So while I do not begrudge the peace and love eulogies nor question the magnitude of the end of organized and legislative apartheid in South Africa, I again think that it is important to view Madiba with more complexity. No one will ever claim that the negotiations with the apartheid regime were easy and it is here where Mandela’s mastery as a politician comes front and center. Yes, it was important that he publicly stood up to De Klerk. But one has to question whether these clashes didn’t play well for both men within their own constituencies. We have to also wonder at which point the United States, the United Kingdom, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund entered negotiations about negotiations. Because the formal negotiations between the ANC and the apartheid regime is where Mandela’s political skill is paramount. Nelson Mandela basically sidelined (albeit temporarily) Thabo Mbeki and chose three negotiators that represented the far left of the struggle—Cyril Ramaphosa then of the Mineworkers Union and Joe Slovo and Mac Maharaj from the South African Communist Party. Did Madiba know that selling what would surely become a neo-liberal transition to the struggle left was more difficult that negotiating with the enemy? Did Madiba know that he needed Joe Slovo to proclaim the sunset clauses that would protect the jobs of apartheid regime bureaucrats? Again a question—but one surely worth asking.
What we do know is that neo-liberalism came with vengeance to South Africa and that the ANC and President Mandela became partners with the West. But we also know that in the early struggle years Nelson Mandela was a revolutionary who believed and fought for a people’s democracy. So, even if there is much more complexity than the present eulogies exhibit, Madiba is still estimable. And the hope, at least from my perspective, is that the love of people that these Hallmark eulogies proclaim will lead to 1980s struggle conversations and actions that address the class disparity, lack of services, freedom of press issues, and corruption that exist today in South Africa.
Alan Wieder is the author of Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid—published this year by Monthly Review Press.
[This piece originally appeared in Monthly Review's webzine. Read it here.]
Happy University Press Week! We are thrilled to once again be kicking off the final run of the university press blog tour—this year, with a post by Chip Rossetti, Managing Editor of the Library of Arabic Literature.
After reading the piece, head on over “from the square” to the Princeton University Press blog, where today’s tour continues! [The tour also stops at Columbia University Press, John Hopkins University Press, Georgetown University Press, Indiana University Press, University of Wisconsin Press, and Yale University Press. For a complete schedule, click here.]
Global reach of university presses: The Library of Arabic Literature at New York University Press
New York University Press has a long history of championing cutting-edge scholarship, and for many readers and scholars, it is associated with books on contemporary life. Certainly, the Press publishes outstanding books on the modern world, but as part of its contribution to University Press Week, I would like to highlight a global initiative the Press has launched over the last few years that I hope showcases the broad scope of its commitment to disseminating scholarly work. Specifically, I am the managing editor for an NYU Press series, the Library of Arabic Literature, that publishes pre-modern Arabic texts in facing-page bilingual editions. The series is supported by a five-year grant from the New York University Abu Dhabi Institute, and its general editor is Professor Philip Kennedy, who since 2009 has been based in Abu Dhabi as a faculty member at the new university of NYU Abu Dhabi.
I began work on the series in January, 2011. Along with Kennedy and an eight-member editorial board consisting of scholars of Arabic and Islamic studies, I spent much of my first year laying the groundwork for the series, such as coming up with a wish list of key Arabic texts the editors wanted to see in translation; hiring a digital production manager to set up our XML-first workflow; designing an interior template and series book jacket design; and working out the technical difficulties of publishing books with both right-to-left and left-to-right texts.
Since December, 2012, we have published seven books, with several more in production, twenty more under contract, and a number of others under review. The series aims for a broad range of genres, including poetry, belles lettres, biography, travel and geographical literature, theology, and law. It has been enormously gratifying over the past year to see these books take shape, and to realize that we are taking this enormously rich and varied written heritage and making it accessible to a broad swath of readers who would otherwise be unfamiliar with these works. Most of them have never been translated into English before (or if they were, they are available only in partial 19th-century versions.)
Take, for example, The Epistle of Forgiveness by the blind, ascetic, possibly heretical Syrian poet Abu l-‘Ala’ al-Ma‘arri (d. 449 H/1057 AD): a sardonic, literate tour of heaven and hell (and the famous poets, scholars, kings, and others who inhabit them), it has sometimes been claimed as the inspiration for Dante’s Divine Comedy, possibly via a no-longer-extant Latin translation. Or take our recent publication of Leg Over Leg, by the 19th-century Lebanese reformer and pioneering journalist Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq. Often compared to Tristram Shandy, it is a tour de force of language, an “untranslatable” text that touches on everything from modernity to women’s rights, gender relations, freedom of religion, and relations between Europe and the Arabs. Needless to say, neither of these LAL books was available to English readers before the Library of Arabic Literature.
It has been a steep learning curve for all of us, and many of our editorial discussions have revolved around laying down series-wide rules: can we insist that technical or cultural terms in Arabic be translated in a certain way? Or do we allow individual translators the leeway to make their translation their own, even at the expense of consistency across the series? What is the best way to translate archaic poetry coming out of a very different cultural and literary milieu into comprehensible, lucid English? (And as with any poetry, is it still poetry after it’s been translated?)
All of those questions are well worth tackling in and of themselves, but they are in the service of a greater goal that New York University Press is aspiring to for a translation series like this: ultimately, we want non-Arabic-speaking readers to view these authors and their texts as part of their global cultural heritage, so that an educated reader is as familiar with the names of Ibn al-Muqaffa’ and al-Ma’arri as she is with Homer, Tolstoy and Confucius.
It’s belated news, but another intern at the Press has joined the team as a full-time staff member! Here’s a quick Q&A to introduce you to Gemma, editorial assistant for the Library of Arabic Literature.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? What are your interests?
This always feels like a trick question! I’m from Barcelona, although I spent a fair share of my childhood moving around. One of my interests, as a consequence, is language: I grew up speaking Catalan and Spanish at home, English at school, and then a farrago of tongues that I picked up on the way, from Dutch to Arabic (unfortunately, retaining linguistic abilities is a whole different story). I also collect keys from around the world, possibly a sentimental testament to my peripatetic origins. So if you have any old or spare keys, donate them to my cause!
And your role at NYU Press? What’s the most exciting part of your job?
I work with Chip Rossetti on the Library of Arabic Literature series, which is a trailblazing, ambitious venture in the field of translation that I feel immensely lucky to be a part of. Now that the first published books are amassing on the shelf, in their glorious cobalt blue covers, you really get a sense of what a commanding collection this will be.
Why did you go into (academic) publishing?
Despite having largely abandoned any PhD aspirations, I was wary of straying too far from academia, and my love of literature made publishing a self-evident choice. I also like being around and/or part of conversations about current and trending topics, which the academic publishing industry is always anticipating. The answer, in short, is: to further my education.
Most preferred way of reading? Good ol’ book or fancy schmancy e-reader?
At the risk of sounding absolutely ridiculous, I thoroughly enjoy the smell of books. The dustier and older, the better. Basically, it’s not reading if you’re not literally burying your face in the pages. Smelling an e-reader, on the other hand, is creepy and unhygienic. (That’s my answer and I’m sticking to it.)
What are you reading these days? Got a favorite NYU Press book?
I’ve been perusing a collection of Henrik Ibsen’s plays and revisiting Denis Johnson’s irreverent short stories in Jesus’ Son to get through particularly misanthropic mornings. As far as new fiction, I can’t wait to get my hands on She Left Me The Gun. I’ve also been known to lurk — actual words of an employee — in the philosophy section of The Strand.
In our NYUP catalog, I’m looking forward to Unclean Lips and, of course, the next volumes of Leg Over Leg, which cover a variety of titillating topics from marital relations and poetry to the sexual aberrations of Europeans. I’ve also been eyeing Arranging Grief in the backlist, which whets my scholarly interest in trauma theory. The list is infinite and overwhelming!
Any insider tips to tackling the great city of New York?
The G line is an unsettling lime green color on the map for a reason. Stay away from the G. Everything else is fair game.
What are some of your hobbies?
Beyond the expected (reading, writing), these days I’m toying around with a Diana+ camera, an analog from the 1970s that produces very neat, raw lomographic photos. I also spend a little too much time in thrift stores; my favorite is Pippin’s in Chelsea. I recently rescued an orphaned 19th-century full-length mirror that took eons to drag home on the subway. I’m verging on Hoarders territory, but it’s all vintage, so that doesn’t count, right?
Have you ever received any great advice about your jobs from a colleague or a mentor?
My first ever employer had a fertile archive of idioms he liked to share gratuitously (I say this with maximum affection). One saying that always resonated with me went: “A mucha hambre, no hay pan duro,” which more or less translates to… for a good appetite, there is no hard bread. In other words, all work is good work. I don’t generally subscribe to mottos, but this would be the closest thing to a guiding principle in my professional life.
In a recent opinion piece for the Washington Post, Joann Weiner shares her thoughts on the ways in which Obamacare will affect women. Though the title of her article is “Women win some, lose some under Obamacare,” Weiner makes clear in her analysis that women gain more than they lose under the Affordable Health Care Act. Probably the most significant gain for women is in the area of reproductive health. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women with private insurance have gained expanded preventative services with no co-pays for well-woman visits, mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care, gestational diabetes screening, breastfeeding supplies, and contraceptive services.
Beginning in 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to charge higher premiums to women. Companies charge these higher premiums with the justification that women use health care more than men do. Surprisingly, some insurance companies charge higher rates to women even when the plan excludes maternity care. Gender disparity in insurance premiums especially affects women with prior c-section deliveries, who are often charged higher premiums unless they are sterilized or past their childbearing years. The Affordable Care Act forbids using gender in computing insurance premiums. Further, 18.6 million uninsured women will gain access to health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace and preventative reproductive healthcare will be guaranteed to these women (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
It is hard not to see the House Republicans’ 42 attempts to defund Obamacare as part of the Republican Party’s War on Women. This can be seen, especially, in the September 29th House vote to fund a stopgap spending measure to prevent an October 1st government shutdown by tacking on a “conscience clause,” which would delay an Obamacare requirement that employers provide health insurance that covers contraceptive care.
The holes in the Affordable Healthcare Act that will most affect women are holes that have plagued women with private health insurance for years. First, health insurance providers in the health exchange systems will not cover all hospitals and providers. I advise women to always seek intervention rates (e.g. rates of labor induction, epidural use, labor augmentation) and c-section rates of hospitals and providers in deciding on a care provider and place for birth. Because rates vary drastically by provider and hospital, women should be given choice in this matter to lower their likelihood of an unnecessary c-section. Second, for the most part, Obamacare does little to help abortion access and probably hurts access if the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which forbids government funding of abortion except in the cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is in danger, is not overturned. This amendment has a more far-reaching effect than does the current Hyde Amendment, 1976 legislation that does not allow federal Medicaid dollars to be spent on abortion except in the cases listed above, because The Stupak-Pitts Amendment affects health insurance policies offered by the health insurance exchange systems and is, thus, more broad in its reach.
On the whole, Obamacare addresses many women’s reproductive health issues, but continues to leave women a lack of choice in health providers and hospitals and a lack of coverage of abortion care.
Theresa Morris is Professor of Sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She is the author of Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America (NYU Press, October 2013).
On August 30th, NPR reported on a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper that suggested physicians perform c-sections in order to maximize their pay. The NBER authors state this assumption and then go on to use it to explain why physician-patients are less likely than non-physician-patients to have a c-section birth in non-HMO hospitals. They argue that the different likelihood of c-section is due to physician-patients’ having information necessary to avoid unnecessary c-sections (that are due to physicians’ maximizing their incomes).
In my book, Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America, I argue that making assumptions about individual motivations is very problematic if one has not talked to the individuals being analyzed. The question, “Do physicians perform c-sections to make more money?” is not explored. Further, to argue that financial incentives are at the root of the c-section epidemic in America, one would have to delve into how physicians are paid for deliveries. Health insurance companies typically pay a global fee for prenatal care and delivery. This fee is a few hundred dollars higher for c-sections, but how the fee is divided among obstetricians in a practice (and few obstetricians practice in solo practices) is complex. Many obstetricians are not paid simply for the births they attend. Rather the global fees are aggregated and then paid to physicians according to the number of call hours they complete. Thus, it is hard to see how physicians have much of a financial incentive to perform a c-section because the increase in pay is not direct and is likely split among obstetricians in the practice.
My research, based on fifty in-depth interviews with maternity clinicians, suggests that a viable competing explanation for the NBER finding is that physicians often have a low threshold for performing c-sections during the course of labor because of liability concerns. Physician-patients may have the information necessary to negotiate with physicians to allow them to continue to try to deliver vaginally and/or physicians may not be as concerned that physician-patients will sue them in the case of a bad outcome and, thus, give physician-patients more latitude during labor.
Also problematic is that that NPR report focused on the assumption of the NBER paper that physicians perform c-sections due to economic incentives, rather than the main empirical finding of the NBER paper. The main empirical finding of the NBER paper is that physician-patients have a different likelihood of c-section than non-physician-patients. The authors focus their conclusion on the finding that “physician-mothers are approximately ten percent less likely to have a C-section.” They conclude, “This paper demonstrates that 10 percent of C-sections represent overuse of healthcare, and that this overuse is not only costly but may have an adverse impact on patients.”
The title of the NPR story—“Money May be Motivating Doctors to Do More C-sections”—and its focus is something that sounds exciting and leads to blaming physicians for the high c-section rate. This is an easy claim to make because it seems to have some kind of intuitive appeal. However, it is has no basis in empirical data analyzed in the NBER paper.
Theresa Morris is Professor of Sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She is the author of Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America (NYU Press, October 2013).
De-extinction has recently emerged as a hot topic in the press, with prominent figures like Stuart Brand giving TED talks on reviving extinct species earlier this year, National Geographic’s recent cover story, and academic conferences on the topic being held with greater than usual press coverage. The debates over de-extinction are largely represented as entirely novel and new. However, what is striking is the extent to which these debates parallel and map on to the debates over using assisted reproductive technologies ranging from in vitro fertilization (IVF) and cloning with endangered animals. Indeed, many key actors – such as Robert Lanza from Advanced Cell Technology – have been involved in and acted as spokespersons for both ventures.
The debates on cloning both endangered and extinct animals have focused on the problems of technological hype for conservation, the practical limits of technology where wild animals are concerned, the ontology of ‘wild’ animals made by humans through technological means, and the quality of the lives these animals are made to live. Participants in de-extinction could therefore learn much by looking at the lessons learned by those involved in cloning endangered animals, where many of these debates have already been addressed.
In particular, de-extinction advocates could learn a lot by looking at how scientists involved in cloning endangered animals have responded to the politics of their work. In my book Cloning Wild Life, I note that some scientists responded to concerns about cloning endangered animals by changing their scientific practices. Different kinds of animals and cells were used in order to make cloned endangered animals fit the concerns of a wider range of actors involved in species preservation. This represents an important difference between de-extinction and cloning endangered animals.
Locating the debates over de-extinction between optimistic scientists seeking to intervene in nature and depressed environmentalists seeking to preserve nature relies upon staid and unproductive clichés. Cloning endangered animals shows that it is far more productive to engage with one’s critics and their concerns, and can even result in a better science.
Carrie Friese is Lecturer in Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is the author of Cloning Wild Life: Zoos, Captivity and the Future of Endangered Animals (NYU Press, 2013). She is currently writing on de-extinction with Claire Marris.
All editors love books. At some point in our lives we fell in love with words, sentences, and stories. It happened early for me. In elementary school I never wanted to leave the library; I hid between the stacks. If you don’t like to think about the wellchosen word or the lyrical power of language, then you probably wouldn’t make a good editor.
And that’s okay. But as a scholar looking to write a book, you should take a moment to think about the craft of writing. For here is a secret that editors know: great books aren’t written, they’re re-written. Many authors have done impressive research and spent years (even decades) interviewing, transcribing, and culling data. But if that scholarship is going to make an impact, then there is more work to do. You have to transform your ﬁndings into a well-told narrative. You have to draw your reader in.
You must be inventive, creative, and lively with your prose. Introduce us to new ideas, new phrases, new ways of thinking. This is what great writers do. This is what you, the author, must do.
Professors are expected to research, teach, and write. The writing may be last on the list, and there may not be any love for it. Great writing is hard. Great writers make reading easy. The words sing, the sentences ﬂow, the pages turn. That’s hard work. Most great writers are talented, but the process of creating a worthwhile book is laborious. Words can be elusive, awkward, tripped over, clunky, monotonous, pedantic, and clichéd. To paraphrase, words don’t bore people, writers bore people.
Revision, editing, and re-writing must happen in order for a great book to get written. This is what editors do. We poke, we pick, we pluck. We move the words around in the sentence. We move the sentences around in the paragraph. We move the chapters around in the book. We re-phrase, we ask for more, for less, for a different direction. There is an art to editing. I like to think that as the years have passed and hundreds of manuscripts have now crossed my desk (or gone through my computer), I have gotten pretty good at editing. I have never seen a case where a manuscript has not been improved through editing—either from my comments or from the academic reviewers kind enough to take a publisher’s modest sum in exchange for their priceless feedback. A thoughtful and challenging review can transform a book.
I suppose I can be tough on authors sometimes. I still edit by hand, on paper with a pencil. I know that receiving these marked up pages with words circled, crossed out, and underlined, with the margins full of questions and comments like, “say more,” “slow down,” and “repeating,” is perhaps not always the most pleasant experience. But it does make for a better book.
Most of the authors I publish say the same thing, “I want to reach a wide audience with my book.” This is often quickly followed up by, “How can I do that?” The answer is easy: Write. Edit. Revise. Re-write.
Here are a few tips: Start with a good title. Pick one that is intriguing, short, and clear—as opposed to vague, long, and complicated. For example, “Parenting Out of Control,” instead of “The Complexities of Family Dynamics in Risk Culture.” Guess which gets a higher Amazon ranking? The same goes for your chapter titles. Always use deliberate, compelling phrasing. Avoid jargon. Accessibility is not the enemy of complexity; in fact, I would argue that easily read prose is more difﬁcult to produce and more likely to convey meaning accurately. Next, pull your reader in from the start by using vivid chapter-openers: begin with a story, an event, a counterintuitive fact, a staggering statistic. Describe. Do not begin a chapter with, “In this chapter I will show….” Please, don’t do that. Say something new and don’t be shy about highlighting your unique perspective. Be able to answer the question, “So what?” I sometimes ask this after a scholar has spent ten uninterrupted minutes earnestly explaining her project. “So what? Why should anyone care? Why is this important?” Map out the stakes for what or how or why your research is signiﬁcant. Only you can tell us—that is, after all, why you are writing the book.
Just don’t forget to re-write it, too.
Ilene Kalish is Executive Editor for the Social Sciences at NYU Press. Read her bio here.
[This article appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of Contexts, a publication of the American Sociological Association.]
The March on Washington had a very specific purpose – to present President Kennedy and Congress with a list of demands designed to secure basic civil and human rights for African Americans. The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, therefore, should not only be a time for sharing snippets of Dr. King’s most famous speech, but also an occasion to look back at the marchers’ demands. Assessing which demands have been met and which have yet to be met will provide a much more accurate picture of how far the nation has come in terms of providing equal opportunity for African Americans than all of the well–meaning recollections and recitations of “I Have A Dream” put together.
Leading the marchers’ list of demands was a call for meaningful civil rights laws. At the time, federal civil rights measures lacked teeth. Prosecutorial power was limited and punishments for racial discrimination were light, if they existed at all. In 1964, major civil rights legislation was passed in the form of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But many complained that it too lacked teeth, and were especially bothered by the absence of provisions to prosecute those who attacked civil rights workers. Today, it remains extremely difficult to bring to justice perpetrators of crimes where racial bias and discrimination were clearly at play. The failure to convict the murderer of young Trayvon Martin underscores the point.
The marchers’ demanded a massive federal work program. The economy was sputtering and hit African Americans especially hard. It was hoped that a New Deal-like jobs program would see the nation—and African Americans—through the downturn. But the federal government never invested in another work program. In fact, during subsequent economic downturns, including the Great Recession of recent years, it established a pattern of propping up large corporations and firing and laying off government employees, rather than expanding employment opportunities to the unemployed and underemployed.
Along with the demand for a massive federal work program, the marchers called for full and fair employment. African Americans were always the last hired and first fired. The only way to break this cycle was to insist on full employment for everyone. Fifty years after the march, America hasn’t come close to full or fair employment. Worse, a large percentage of the nation’s workforce, and disproportionately high numbers of black workers, don’t even earn a livable wage. Meanwhile, debate rages in Congress about nickel and dime increases to the minimum wage.
A major issue for the marchers was decent housing. African Americans across the country were routinely discriminated against when it came to housing, forcing many to live in overpriced, overcrowded dwellings in segregated neighborhoods. Little has changed over the years. In fact, patterns of residential segregation have increased as suburbs have spread and gentrification has reclaimed select urban spaces as exclusive white spaces. And the recent collapse of the housing market has exposed the ongoing vulnerability of black middle class homeowners to discriminatory lending practices.
The right to vote was also a central concern for the marchers. No constitutional right is more fundamental than the vote, yet black southerners continued to be excluded from the ballot box. In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, providing new protections for black voters. But in the new millennium, a wave of state voter ID laws, combined with the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of a key element of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, have put the vote of tens of thousands of African Americans at severe risk.
The marchers’ final demand was adequate integrated education. Nearly a decade after Brown, segregated schools remained the norm in the South and white southerners remained as determined as ever to keep it that way. And half a century later, a race-based dual education system persists. In much of the South, black children attend public schools and white children attend private white Christian academies. In most metropolitan areas with large black populations, the divide is between urban and suburban school districts.
A lot has changed since the March on Washington, and it is wonderful that so many people are taking the time to recognize this historic event. But the sobering reality is that half a century after the march, the marchers’ demands remain largely unmet.
Fifty years from now, at the centennial of the march, I hope these demands will have been fulfilled. But given the slow pace of progress, and the determination of reactionaries to roll back the clock, I’m much less hopeful than I was just a few years ago.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries is Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University, where he holds a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. He is the author of Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt (NYU Press, 2010).
With the 50th anniversary of the1963 March on Washington demonstration in the media’s spotlight, and especially of its heavy emphasis on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, this light has also shined on the real strategic planners and originators of the actual 1963 March: A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. Together, Randolph and Rustin made an indefatigable team of seasoned civil rights activists that enabled Dr. King’s now famous speech to be remembered so vividly fifty years later.
Through the media attention on this anniversary, it has been gratifying to once again see the cover of Life magazine (September 6, 1963) with Randolph and Rustin standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial. At the time of the March, most Americans had viewed these two men as the real stars of the occasion. The 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom was actually the realization of their long-time “dream” to have a dramatic and peaceful demonstration that emphasized the need of all black Americans for economic opportunities and jobs, as well as the more elusive ideal of freedom.
At the time of Randolph’s death in 1979, Rustin described his relationship with Randolph in a variety of ways: father, uncle, adviser, and defender. Yet, Randolph’s and Rustin’s civil rights collaboration got off to a shaky start. As a leader in the youth division of the original March on Washington Movement, Rustin publicly criticized Randolph for calling off the first march scheduled for July 1, 1941. After the war, in 1948, Randolph and Rustin worked together again on a civil disobedience league called the “Committee to End ‘Jim Crow” in the Armed Services.”
When Randolph disbanded the league after President Truman issued Executive Order 9981 which eventually led to the desegregation of the services, Rustin recalled how “a number of ‘Young Turks’ and I decided to outflank Mr. Randolph,” denouncing him in the black press as “an Uncle Tom, a sellout, a reactionary, and an old fogey out of touch with the times.” Afraid that Randolph would not forgive his “treachery,” Rustin avoided Randolph for two years. When Rustin finally mustered the courage to visit Randolph in his New York office, he described the renewal of their friendship in this way:
As I was ushered in, there he was, distinguished and dapper as ever, with arms outstretched, waiting to greet me, the way he had done a decade ago. Motioning me to sit down with that same sweep of his arm, he looked at me, and in a calm, even voice, said: ‘Bayard, where have you been? You know that I have needed you.’
From then on, Randolph and Rustin worked together as the key architects of the modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1953, after an incident in Pasadena California when Rustin, an openly gay man, was busted on a morals charge of sexual misconduct, Randolph stood by him and without his friendship, support and considerable influence, Rustin might have been completely ostracized from the civil rights community. Randolph declared “if the fact is, he is homosexual, maybe we need more of them; he’s so talented.”
In 1956, Randolph and Rustin, along with Ella Baker and Stanley Levison, formed an organization called “In Friendship,” a fundraising group committed to providing “economic aid to victims of race terror in the South,” especially for supporters of the Montgomery bus boycott. The group agreed that Rustin, with his extensive experience in nonviolent techniques, could best evaluate the situation in the early days of the boycott. In his brief time there, Rustin worked effectively with the young and inexperienced boycott leader, Martin Luther King. Behind the scenes, Rustin advised Dr. King with his speeches and sat in on many of the boycott’s strategy meetings. Both Randolph and Rustin threw their considerable influence behind King’s emergent leadership of the newest phase of civil rights activity, as Rustin believed “from the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, for the next two years following to May 1957, [the three year anniversary of the Brown decision] the center of gravity and the center of activity for the whole civil rights movement was the church people and ministers of the south.”
Between 1957 and 1963, this newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), joined forces with the NAACP, and various labor and working-class groups linked to A. Philip Randolph and other labor leaders to make civil rights history, culminating in the spectacular success of the peaceful August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
By 1963, A. Philip Randolph was nearing the end of his long years of labor and civil rights activism. In his final tribute to Randolph, Rustin remembered their historic collaboration of that day in the following way:
As the assembly slowly dispersed from the Lincoln Memorial, Rustin saw the tired ‘old gentleman’ standing alone on the podium, looking out on the departing crowds. As Rustin walked up to Randolph, he was surprised to find ‘tears streaming down his cheeks’ the first time he had even seen Randolph show his emotions. Indeed, Randolph was so overcome with the power of that one-day event, in which the black community and the white liberal community came together in their demand for equal treatment under the law, that he ‘could not hold back his feelings.’
How great that the 50th anniversary of the March has brought two forgotten heroes behind the movement, back into public memory.
Today, we’re sharing the first chapter of 22 Ideas to Fix the World—featuring an interview with Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. In it, the founder of microfinance discusses his views on poverty, unemployment, and the role of social business.
Read the interview below, and let us know your thoughts in the comments section!