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Statement of Jacqueline A. Berrien, EEOC Chair 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On this date 50 years ago, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children from across the nation and the globe gathered in Washington, DC to participate in the March for Jobs and Freedom.  The occasion was so memorable that even today, after many more marches have occurred in the Nation's Capital, the August 28, 1963 March is referred to as the March on Washington.  The words of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., music of Mahalia Jackson, and images of the crowd of thousands from that day are iconic.

When I see images of the 1963 March, I am reminded of my father's obvious pride and great joy whenever he recounted how he was on the Mall that day, and, although I had not yet turned 2 years old, so was I.  Fifty years later, I was able to make the choice to travel to the Mall myself, and eagerly did so on Saturday August 24, 2013.  I joined thousands of people who travelled to the Mall in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  In the final hour of the day's events, I saw a member of my church who was there with his wife, 3 year old son and infant daughter.  I immediately began to think about the possibility that 50 years from now these children could be as profoundly impacted by their parents' decision to bring them to the anniversary celebration as I have been by my parents' decision to have me at the original march.  As I watched their daughter nap in her stroller and their young son play on the lawn near the Reflecting Pool, I was struck by the many things they will encounter in their  lifetime that are unforeseeable and even unimaginable. Nevertheless, for all of the uncertain scenarios in these children's future, I am confident that the work we are doing now at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has the potential to impact their lives positively, just as my predecessors' work at the EEOC has had a positive impact on my life.

Since opening its doors in 1965, the EEOC has been charged with the mission of ending employment discrimination through enforcement of the nation's equal employment opportunity laws.  Those laws prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, pregnancy, disability, family medical history, and genetic information.  As a result of our efforts, in the last half century, many of the nation's workplaces have progressed from ones in which racial segregation, sexual harassment, arbitrary age limits, and religious intolerance were the rule rather than the exception to workplaces that afford equal opportunities for all and represent the full diversity of our great nation. 

In Fiscal Year 2012, the agency resolved more than 111,000 private sector discrimination charges, secured more than $365.4 million in monetary benefits, and reduced the total number of unresolved charges by nearly 10 percent for the second year in a row.  Notably, these results were achieved despite receiving nearly 100,000 new private sector charges for three years in a row.  In the federal sector, the agency resolved more than 7,500 complaints, securing nearly $62 million in relief for federal employees and applicants who requested hearings, and resolved more than 4,000 appeals.  Moreover, the agency's outreach program, which is aimed at encouraging voluntary compliance with the law, reached more than 318,000 persons through participation in nearly 4,000 no-cost educational, training, and outreach events.

Nevertheless, as Jon Meacham of Time Magazine has written, "We live in a world [Dr.] King helped create.  We do not yet live in the world he helped us all dream of."  There is far more work to do before we can declare that we have completed our mission of stopping and remedying unlawful employment discrimination and far more progress to make before the nation fully realizes Dr. King's dream.  However, we pause today to thank those with the vision, courage and fortitude to march for jobs and freedom 50 years ago and rededicate ourselves to working to ensure that the dream of equal employment opportunity will become a reality.