The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

60th Anniversary of the Detroit Freedom March

Jun 12, 2023

On Saturday, June 24 there will be a march on Woodward Avenue in Detroit to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Walk to Freedom, which was headed in 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of the SCLC and Walter Reuther of the UAW. Organized in Detroit by the Detroit Council for Human Rights, 125,000 attended and it was the largest march in civil rights history up to then.

This year’s event begins at 10 a.m. at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and Woodward. It ends with a rally at 12 noon at Hart Plaza. The Detroit NAACP and the UAW International Union are this year’s sponsors. March organizers insist that the fight for jobs, justice and freedom continues.

The Detroit march and rally in 1963 came on the heels of a 3-month successful mobilization of the black population in Birmingham, Alabama. There, young people played a major role in forcing a vicious racist sheriff, “Bull” Connor, to leave office.

The year 1963 saw the era of urban rebellions begin. On the night of May 11th, the black population of Birmingham rioted in response to white supremacists bombing the residences of black leaders.

When speaking in Detroit, King referenced protests in 60 communities at that moment. But by the time of King’s speech in Detroit, sections of the black population had moved beyond the philosophy of working within the system. Embracing a more radical call for “justice now” and as Malcom X advocated, “by any means necessary,” more immediate demands began to be raised.

The social explosions and urban rebellions that began in Birmingham in 1963 were followed by explosions in Harlem in ’64, Watts in ’65, Cleveland and Chicago in ’66 and then went to Detroit and Newark in 1967 and almost every city in 1968, when King was assassinated.

It was, finally, these urban rebellions that forced the capitalist class and their political representatives to begin hiring black workers into the plants and workplaces that previously were segregated. These jobs improved opportunities for housing and education.

Today, decades since these massive social movements, gains from that era are steadily being clawed back. We see that what the leaders of this society “give” during a mobilization gets taken back. The lesson is that the population only holds onto gains we continuously fight for. The Freedom March of 1963 and the rebellions that followed are an impressive groundwork that can be picked up and advanced when a new generation of fighters is ready.