The Newsletter for SUNY Downstate
University Hospital of Brooklyn
ISSUE 18 OCTOBER 2013
The Impact of the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington
by Kevin Antoine, JD
Chief Diversity Officer, and
Shaundelle Goldsmith, JD
EEO&Title IX Advisor
The Legacy Is Still Important to Downstate
Fifty years ago on August 28, 1963, Americans from all walks of life marched on the nation's capital in what now is simply referred to as "The March on Washington." Eighteen people were on the official program to give remarks, sing, and offer prayer. History forever set apart the sixteenth speaker, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With Old Testament fervor, Dr. King delivered perhaps one of the greatest speeches in world history. Dr. King exalted, "We have come here today to dramatize the shameful condition…. we have…come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now."
More than a quarter of a million people participated in the March on Washington, making it the largest gathering of Americans up to that time seeking redress of issues from the federal government. Within two years, Congress passed both President Kennedy's landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Sadly, within three months of "The March," President Kennedy would be assassinated, never living to see the passage of the civil rights and voting rights bills he sent to Congress. In less than 5 years Dr. King would be assassinated, never living to see federal nondiscrimination laws become the law of the land and duplicated at state and local government levels, colleges and universities, private sector business, and at academic health centers.
Even here at Downstate Medical Center we enjoy benefits and opportunities as a result of that march fifty years ago. For example, both Downstate and the various unions that represent state employees have standard non-discrimination policies in their employment policies and collective bargaining agreements that mirror the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Downstate Medical Center now sponsors a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Leadership Award.
The first two recipients of that award -- H. Carl McCall, chairman of the SUNY Board of Trustees, and the Reverend Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC's Politics Nation -- reminded us how both New York State and the unions excluded some Brooklyn residents from construction jobs in the building of Downstate. By 1964, excluding Americans from employment based on race, ethnicity, gender, and religion was against federal law.
As the impact of the March on Washington reverberated, its reach could still be felt in 1972 with the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments (Title IX). This law states in part that, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." While most people think Title IX's reach only extends to athletics, the legislation's coverage is much broader. The law applies to ten specific areas including athletics. The other areas are: access to higher education, career education, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, standardized testing, technology, employment, and education for pregnant and parenting students.
As racial and ethnic minorities faced discrimination in areas such as employment, education, voting, and public accommodations, women and girls faced their own struggles -- including fairness in educational access. Many long-held stereotypes of women's abilities and intellect prevented them from being able to fully participate in the educational experience. Women and girls faced limitations based on overt discrimination such as being denied admission to certain schools and programs as well as battling stereotypes, held by both men and other women, that they were incapable of successfully participating in academic and physical activities.
The passage of Title IX initially only signaled a subtle shift in the perception of women's abilities in academics and sports. However, its broad mandates did usher in major change in the number of opportunities available for women and young girls to participate in activities that were previously unavailable to them. Influenced by the steps taken by marchers on August 28, 1963 the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX allowed more voices to be heard and also gave them a seat at the table.
Today, private sector businesses also have nondiscrimination policies, including the Joint Commission that has oversight over accreditation of American hospitals. The new Culturally Competent Patient-Family Centered Hospital Accreditation Standard provides that, "As patients move along the care continuum, it is important for hospitals to be prepared to identify and address not just the clinical aspects of care, but also the spectrum of each patient's demographic and personal characteristics."
International organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Foundation Millennium Development Goals (UNFMDG) have even adopted in part the language of the American Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and Title IX. The WHO Constitution provides: "The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic, or social condition." The UNFMDG is a commitment by the UN to establish peace and a healthy global economy by focusing on major issues like poverty, children's health, empowerment of women and girls, sustainable environment, disease, and development.
As civil rights workers in the South used to say, once you start something you can't stop at the door. These next fifty years should continue to open closed doors to make the right to health care a constitutional right.