Lessons in Leadership at the LCCR Luncheon

Yesterday I attended one of my favorite annual events in San Francisco – the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Luncheon of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the huge screens in the banquet room at the St. Francis featured photos from what was one of the largest political rallies for human rights ever held in the United States.  We were also treated to a fiery keynote address from long time Bay Area Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D. – California, who reminded us that Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech focused on the three “evils” of war, poverty, and racism.

Representative Lee publicly thanked two of her longtime mentors, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and former San Francisco mayor and longtime Speaker of the California Assembly, Willie Brown, asking if Willie was in the room to take a bow.  He must not have been present, because I’ve never known Willie Brown not to stand up and be acknowledged by a crowd, ever!  Rep. Lee is a courageous woman – she is the only member of either house of Congress who voted against the resolution authorizing the use of force in response to the 9/11 attacks.

The LCCR program contained “factual tidbits” about the March of Washington, including a list of what was demanded at the March (attributed to a US News & World Report piece dated September 9, 1963):

  1. Passage of “meaningful” civil rights legislation in the current session of Congress, with no filibustering.
  2. Immediate elimination of all racial segregation in public schools nationwide.
  3. A big program of public works to provide jobs for all the nation’s unemployed, including job training and placement programs.
  4. A federal law prohibiting racial discrimination in hiring workers, either in public or private employment.
  5. A nationwide $2/hour minimum wage.
  6. Withholding of federal funds from programs in which discrimination exists.
  7. Enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment (enacted during Reconstruction to include a broad definition of citizenship that overturned the Dred Scott decision which held that people of African descent, both slave and free, were not citizens of the United States), to include reducing congressional representation of states where citizens are disenfranchised.
  8. A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include currently excluded employment areas.
  9. Authority of the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when any constitutional right is violated.

The March on Washington is widely credited with having helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  While we still have a long way to go in ensuring equality for all, Margaret Mead was right:  never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change history!


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