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Black History Month: Former Tuskegee Airman Says More Challenges Lie Ahead

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On August 28, 1963 hundreds of thousands descended on Washington for what would be known as the Great March on Washington -- a show of unity and non-violence calling for civil and economic equality for African Americans. As NY1 celebrates the 50th anniversary of that event, Bronx reporter Erin Clarke recently sat down with a former Tuskegee airman who attended the march and shared his reflections.

At age 41, Roscoe Brown Junior was becoming part of history. He and his daughter stood among thousands at the national mall in Washington D.C. to demand change.

"We could see a direct line to where [Dr.] King was speaking and were caught up in a wonderful, wonderful experience," recalls Brown, Jr. "During the 50's there were many freedom rides and walks and demands for the desegregation of facilities."

The March on Washington, he says, was really the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.
After President Kennedy's assassination, Lyndon Johnson used the march's momentum to push the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of '65. Though the years after were marred by some negatives, like the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior, positive scholarship and Affirmative Action programs followed.

Fifty years later, Doctor Brown thinks African Americans have come a long way in accomplishing those goals, but he says there is still much work to be done, particularly in the areas of education and economic development, which was a part of the march in 1963.

"What has happened is because of residential segregation and demography many black folks are still in neighborhoods which are underserved, they go to schools that are underfunded and not properly staffed," says Brown, Jr.

He says moving forward, the black community has to recognize what change is needed and make it a priority.

"We have to embrace in our group, not only our singing and dancing and our basketball, but we have to embrace excellence in school and we're doing that I think. The president probably has given the best example of excellence," says Brown, Jr.

As for his thoughts on a March on Washington today, Brown says there would be both similarities and differences.

"The issues would be similar in terms of limiting discrimination and opportunity, but there would be different groups that would want to join. It would be women of course, it would be the gay community, it would people against gun violence," he says.

And so, the fight continues. Doctor Brown says he looks forward to another 50 years of progress.

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