On August 27, 1963, the day before the historic March on Washington, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century passed away in his exile home of Ghana. Having been driven out of the U.S.A. through the endless harassment and hounding by the U.S. government, W.E.B. DuBois, the noted scholar, activist and leading Pan Africanist, was provided a home in Ghana by its President, Kwame Nkrumah. Dubois’s death was mentioned to the marchers and there was a moment of silence, yet many of those in attendance, including many of the organizers of the March, had remained silent when DuBois was subject to the anti-communist persecution that he experienced, particularly from the late 1940s onward.
It is important to remember DuBois today not simply because he died on the eve of the great March on Washington, but because he was a prime mover in the reexamination of the post-Civil War period known as ‘Reconstruction.’ Reconstruction was one of those rare moments in U.S. history where this country could have gone in a very different direction. The slaves had been liberated and, along with poor Whites in the South, had the chance to shatter the legacy of enslavement. Reconstruction was defeated, however, by an alliance of the Southern elite and Northern industrialists in the mid-1870s after the Southern elite accepted a subordinate role to that of the Northern capitalists.
In the 1960s, the U.S. experienced a ‘Second Reconstruction.’ Through struggles of the Black Freedom Movement, along with other movements for social justice such as the women’s movement and the Chicano movement, democracy was expanded. Yet the ruling elite of this country was only prepared for things to go but so far. Our victories were met with the so-called ‘White backlash,’ especially by many angry men who did not want gender roles to change. We have been on the defensive ever since.
The 2013 commemoration of the March on Washington was actually our chance to announce that our sights should now be set on a Third Reconstruction. A Third Reconstruction is badly needed.
It is a movement towards an expansion of democracy; a movement for ecological justice and survival; a movement for the democracticization of the economy; a movement for genuine racial justice and gender justice; a movement for a foreign policy that makes the U.S. a partner rather than a bully. Rather than looking backwards, we need to be paying attention to what it will take to get us to the Third Reconstruction. That may be one of the best ways to honor those who brought us the 1963 March on Washington, and to honor W.E.B. DuBois, all of whom many on the political Right would rather that we forget.
(Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of They’re Bankrupting Us – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at .)