March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, The Great March on Washington, as styled in a sound recording released after the event) was a large political rally in support of civil and economic rights for African Americans that took place in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, August 28, 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech advocating racial harmony at the Lincoln Memorial during the march.
The march was organized by a group of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations, under the theme "jobs, and freedom. Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 (police) to over 300,000 (leaders of the march). Observers estimated that 75–80% of the marchers were black and the rest were white and other minorities.
The march is widely credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).
Representatives from each of the sponsoring organizations addressed the crowd from the podium at the Lincoln Memorial. Speakers included all six civil-rights leaders of the so called, "Big Six"; Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish religious leaders; and labor leader Walter Reuther. The one female speaker was Josephine Baker.
Floyd McKissick read James Farmer's speech because Farmer had been arrested during a protest in Louisiana; Farmer had written that the protests would not stop "until the dogs stop biting us in the South and the rats stop biting us in the North.
On August 28, more than 2,000 buses, 21 special trains, 10 chartered airliners, and uncounted cars converged on Washington. All regularly scheduled planes, trains, and buses were also filled to capacity.
The march began at the Washington Monument and ended at the Lincoln Memorial with a program of music and speakers. The march failed to start on time because its leaders were meeting with members of Congress. To the leaders' surprise, the assembled group began to march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial without them.
The 1963 March also spurred anniversary marches that occur every five years, with the 20th and 25th being some of the most well known. The 25th Anniversary theme was "We Still have a Dream.Jobs*Peace*Freedom.
Media attention gave the march national exposure, carrying the organizers' speeches and offering their own commentary. In his section The March on Washington and Television News, William Thomas notes: "Over five hundred cameramen, technicians, and correspondents from the major networks were set to cover the event. More cameras would be set up than had filmed the last Presidential inauguration. One camera was positioned high in the Washington Monument, to give dramatic vistas of the marchers.
Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson sang "How I Got Over", musician Bob Dylan performed several songs, including "Only a Pawn in Their Game", about the culturally fed racial hatred amongst Southern whites that led to the assassination of Medgar Evers; and "When the Ship Comes In", during which he was joined by fellow folk singer Joan Baez, who earlier had led the crowds in several verses of "We Shall Overcome" and "Oh Freedom". Peter, Paul and Mary sang "If I Had a Hammer" and Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind". Marian Anderson sang at the march as well.
King gave his famous I Have a Dream speech, which was carried live by TV stations.
Background and Organization
The march was initiated by A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, president of the Negro American Labor Council, and vice president of the AFL-CIO. Randolph had planned a similar march in 1941. The threat of the earlier march had convinced President Roosevelt to establish the Committee on Fair Employment Practice and bar discriminatory hiring in the defense industry.
The 1963 march was an important part of the rapidly expanding Civil Rights Movement. It also marked the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.
In the political sense, the march was organized by a coalition of organizations and their leaders including: Randolph who was chosen as the titular head of the march, James Farmer (president of the Congress of Racial Equality), John Lewis (president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Martin Luther King, Jr. (president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), Roy Wilkins (president of the NAACP), Whitney Young (president of the National Urban League).
The mobilization and logistics of the actual march itself was administered by deputy director Bayard Rustin, a civil rights veteran and organizer of the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, the first of the Freedom Rides to test the Supreme Court ruling that banned racial discrimination in interstate travel. Rustin was a long-time associate of both Randolph and Dr. King. With Randolph concentrating on building the march's political coalition, Rustin built and led the team of activists and organizers who publicized the march and recruited the marchers, coordinated the buses and trains, provided the marshals, and set up and administered all of the logistic details of a mass march in the nation's capital.
The march was not universally supported among African Americans. Some civil rights activists were concerned that it might turn violent, which could undermine pending legislation and damage the international image of the movement. The march was condemned by Malcolm X, spokesperson for the Nation of Islam, who termed it the "farce on Washington.