Labor, Land, and Economics



Land, economics, and labor have always been central to the struggle for civil and human rights in the United States. In this section we provide resources to explore the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and a contemporary struggle over land and the environment on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.



March on Washington Quiz

When most people think of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, what comes to mind is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic statement, “I Have a Dream.” In truth, there was much more to this historic event than these four words in King’s speech. Take this quiz to challenge assumptions, deepen understanding, and inspire further learning about the March on Washington.



Claiming and Teaching the 1963 March on Washington 

The March on Washington did not begin as a classic civil rights march. It is barely remembered that the March on Washington was for freedom AND jobs, or that the march was initiated by black labor leaders.

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Primary Document

"Until Victory Comes" May 1941, Call to Negro America (Call for March on Washington in 1941)

In 1941, A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, issued a call to African Americans to fight the unjust conditions in the workforce with a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The threatened mass protest forced President Franklin Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 8802 in June 1941, banning discrimination in the federal government and the defense industry. On June 28, A. Philip Randolph postponed the march.

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Primary Document

Statement and Demands of the March on Washington

The 1963 March on Washington had a list of ten demands. Half of the demands were not about integration or education – they were about labor and economic rights.

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March for Jobs and Freedom: Calculating the Crowd

In this lesson, students use representations and computations to estimate the crowd at the 1963 March on Washington. Students will strengthen critical thinking and mathematical skills through investigation and problem solving, and gain a deeper understanding of the issues related to protest demonstrations and media representations of events.


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At the River I Stand

The documentary film At the River I Stand skillfully reconstructs the two eventful months that transformed a strike by Memphis sanitation workers into a national conflagration, and disentangles the complex historical forces that came together with the inevitability of tragedy at the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Remembering the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike: A Collaborative Mural

Civil Rights Movement curricula are flooded with images of Dr. King in saintlike portraits, frequently exhibited with brief, benign text about his “dream.” This imagery does a disservice to the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. It oversimplifies the work of Dr. King and ignores the thousands of individuals who performed the many, complicated acts of resistance that aimed to change the course of history. Here is an art lesson designed to introduce the complexity and role of ordinary people in the Civil Rights Movement.



Southern Tenant Farmworkers: Black and White Unite?

This lesson examines efforts by Black and white workers to overcome the deep divisions and suspicions of racial antagonism. Students are faced with a “What would you do?” assignment that helps them understand many of the difficulties in achieving some degree of racial unity. At the same time, they realize the importance of confronting and overcoming racist attitudes.



Si Se Puede! Yes, We Can!
By Marcy Fink Campos

Using the bilingual children's book Si Se Puede! Yes, We Can! to explore ways to organize for change, labor issues, and help students connect to workers in their own schools.




Our House Divided: What U.S. Schools Don’t Teach About U.S.-Style Apartheid
By Richard Rothstein

The widespread belief that our continued residential racial segregation, North and South, is “de facto,” not the result of explicit government policy but instead the consequence of private prejudice, economic inequality, and personal choice to self-segregate is false.In truth, our major metropolitan areas were segregated by government action.



Significant Dates on Black Land Loss and Land Acquisition
By Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund with additions from Teaching for Change

A timeline of significant dates.



Black Cooperatives in the United States: An Excerpted History
By Jessica Gordon Nembhard

African Americans cooperatives have a long history in the United States, from pooling money in order to help each other buy themselves out of enslavement, to forming their own communities, mutual aid societies, and cooperative projects to provide joint purchasing and marketing, revolving loan funds, sickness and death benefits, and more.



Looking for Justice at Turkey Creek
By Hardy Thames

Students study the African-American community of Turkey Creek, exploring whether the changes in the community relate to social and economic growth or social justice issues and then create projects with research and action components.

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The Case for Reparations: Interview with Tanehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates describes how the legacy of slavery extends to geographical and governmental policies in the United States and calls for a "collective introspection" on reparations.



Stealing Home: Eminent Domain, Urban Renewal, and the Loss of Community
By Linda Christensen

Teaching about patterns of displacement and wealth inequality through the history of Chávez Ravine and the building of Dodger Stadium.


Teaching Activity

Dirt and Deeds in Mississippi
By Tiferet Ani

A socratic seminar based upon the film Dirt and Deeds in Mississippi, which presents a unique perspective on the role of Black landowners and independent farmers who were the secret weapon in the historic fight to overthrow white supremacy in America’s most violence prone state.


Additional Resources

Recommended books, films, and more for further learning about labor, land, and economics.


César Chávez on How It Began

In an interview just before his death in 1993, César Chávez related the story of how the National Farmworker Association became involved with Filipinos and the first contract with Schenley Liquors.

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Murals: Redefining Culture, Reclaiming Identity
By Eva Sperling Cockcroft and Holly Barnet-Sanchez

A powerful essay on the connections among art, identity, and activism. Excerpted from the introduction to Signs from the Heart: California Chicano Murals, we recommend the full book which includes four essays by leading artists and scholars and 36 color images of California murals.



African Americans Have Lost Untold Acres of Land Over the Last Century
By Leah Douglas

In the 45 years following the Civil War, formerly enslaved people and their descendants accumulated roughly 15 million acres of land across the United States, most of it in the South. By 1920, there were 925,000 black-owned farms, representing about 14 percent of all farms in the United States. Over the course of the 20th century, millions of farmers of all races were pushed off their land. Today, African Americans compose less than 2 percent of the nation’s farmers and 1 percent of rural landowners.



Native American Land Loss Maps
By Sam B. Hilliard



Invasion of America
By Claudio Saunt

This interactive map, produced by University of Georgia historian Claudio Saunt to accompany his new book West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, offers a time-lapse vision of the transfer of Indian land between 1776 and 1887.