St. Paul, Minn. – As the sun beat down on the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday, nearly 200 Minnesotans raised their voices in song, prayer and celebration, just as thousands did at the March on Washington this same day in 1963.
“Fifty years ago, men and women of every race, creed and religion gathered on our National Mall to declare that the scourge of discrimination could not overpower a nation dedicated to equality and freedom,” said Rep. Keith Ellison. “They asked our country to keep the promises made in the Constitution.The problems we face today may seem different, but we are fighting for the same goal: equality for all. The bravery shown by those who came before us fuels our drive towards progress and for that we thank each and every one of them.”
U.S. Representative Keith Ellison addressed the crowd gathered at the South Mall of the Minnesota State Capitol, following a mile-long march from Boyd Park in St. Paul. Rep. Ellison spoke about the need to increase the minimum wage as a way to address disparities in wages across the country. The minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, was $9.45 in 1963. Today, it’s $7.25 nationally and $6.15 in Minnesota.
It was one of many issues addressed at Wednesday’s commemoration, which was organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) African-American caucus, the AFRAM Minnesota Chapter. All across the country, citizens celebrated the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic civil rights march. In Minnesota, social and economic justice groups including the St. Paul NAACP joined SEIU-AFRAM and Rep. Ellison to continue the fight for jobs, freedom and justice.
“There are still many obstacles we need to overcome to realize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a more just society,” said Tee McClenty, Executive Vice President of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and member of SEIU AFRAM. “There are racial disparities in education, employment, and wages. We need a just system that protects all of its citizens.”
“Faced with a broken immigration system that tears apart families and allows employers to abuse and exploit workers, we, as a country, still have a long way to go to achieve the vision of a more equal society,” said Abraham Kone, SEIU Local 26 member. “America has a chance to honor the lessons of the civil rights movement by passing true, commonsense immigration reform that will allow millions of aspiring Americans to walk the path to citizenship and become full members of our democracy. Congress must act now because without reform, millions of immigrants will be relegated to a permanent underclass.”
“The March we honor today was a major event as our nation seeks to navigate the stormy seas of racism to land on the shores of justice,” said Carol Nieters, SEIU Local 284 Executive Director. “The legacy of the march on Washington was to give us the moral compass we need for this journey. We are not there yet. At SEIU, our mission is to ‘improve people’s lives and lead the way to a more just society.’ The role of the labor movement must be to help chart the way through waters still roiled by the injustice of great wealth in the hands of the few and great struggle in the lives of the many. For if we do not have a just economy, we do not have justice.”
The program included speeches, prayer and song, in addition to the reading of the historic “I Have A Dream” speech by 11-year-old Cherrish Maxon.