30th-anniversary march on D.C. stirs few here

August 24, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

Local organizers of the 30th anniversary March on Washington are struggling to produce a respectable turnout from Baltimore at Saturday's event.

Fewer than 25 volunteers turned out last night at Trinity Baptist Church in the 1600 block of Druid Hill Ave. for a premarch "rally" that turned into a discussion of the need to overcome apathy and spur people to participate.

"We don't have a single message today, as we did in 1963," said George N. Buntin Jr., executive director of the Baltimore NAACP chapter. "We're no longer as solidly together on issues. Why? Because the issues for black professionals are not the same as they are for the black unemployed. I see black professionals every day who think they don't have problems -- until they have a problem."

He said the city chapter was "working hard" to fill 10 to 15 buses to Washington. Labor unions and other groups also will provide transportation to the march.

The march, on the theme "Passing the Torch for Jobs, Justice and Peace," commemorates the 1963 March on Washington at which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech before more than 250,000 people.

This year's march is sponsored by civil rights groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League and the National Rainbow Coalition, as well as church, union and women's organizations.

Rashaad Ali, a West Baltimore garment worker and volunteer organizer, said he ran away from home in Harlem at age 15 to march in 1963 and that the event changed his life.

"You have to explain to people what role marches play" in the political process, Mr. Ali said. "People showed up from nowhere in 1963. That can happen again."

The 1963 march set the stage for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed segregation in interstate accommodations and promoted school integration. This year's march will focus on economic disparities between blacks and whites.

Three decades ago, median black family income was $3,500 a year, 54 percent of the white median of $6,500. In 1991, the black median of $21,500 a year had edged up to 57 percent of the white median of $38,000, and the gap between middle-class and poor blacks had widened considerably, according to the Census Bureau.

Similarly, unemployment has gone from 11 percent for blacks and 5 percent for whites in 1963 to 14.1 percent for blacks and 6.5 percent for whites in 1992, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Michele Smith, a member of the Food and Commercial Workers -nion, said she handed out 500 march leaflets last weekend at Druid Hill Park and got a "good response."

"When you get together with tens of thousands of people, you feel you're taking destiny in your hands, but that you're not doing it alone," she said. "It lets us know the power we have in being united."

NAACP buses will leave the Eastern High School parking lot on East 33rd Street for Washington at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

Information: 366-3300.

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