MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR JOBS AND FREEDOM HELD 50 YEARS AGO TODAY
Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom*, attended by a quarter of a million people, was held here in the Nation's Capital 50 years ago today, Wednesday, August 28, 1963.
*Most people know the event simply as "The March on Washington," and associate it with civil rights, but it was also the desire of organizers to emphasize the wide economic disparity between the races.
In 1963, the unemployment rate for blacks was twice that of whites in the United States and the income of white families was almost twice that of black families.
Bayard Rustin and Cleveland Robinson
March on Washington organizers
August 7, 1963
Library of Congress Photo
A flyer for the March stated...
"America faces a crisis. Millions of Negroes are denied freedom. Millions of citizens, black and white are unemployed. We demand meaningful Civil Rights Laws, full and fair employment, (a) massive Federal Works Program, decent housing, the right to vote (and) adequate integrated education."
The highlight of the day came when the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed the audience at the Lincoln Memorial.
Dr. King, who had only finished writing the speech that morning, said:
"I still have a dream. It is a dream that is deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal'.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
Dr. King concluded his remarks with these resonating words...
"When we allow freedom (to) ring....we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we're free at last.'"
After the event, civil rights leaders, including Dr. King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Roy Wilkins, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Whitney Young, Jr. of the National Urban League, John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House.
John Lewis said that the President greeted each of them at the door of the Oval Office and congratulated them with the words, "You did a great job."
The March on Washington was the brainchild of A. Philip Randolph who had attempted to lead a march in 1941 which never materialized but resulted in FDR's executive order prohibiting discrimination in munition plants.
Mr. Randolph, who became the Director of the March on Washington, had been counseling Dr. King to hold a march in the Nation's Capital in 1963.
President Kennedy's speech on civil rights in June along with his submission of a civil rights bill, gave a strong boost to Randolph's idea.*
*JFK had been concerned that the March on Washington would turn violent and hurt chances for the passage of his civil rights legislation. When the day ended with no violence, the President was relieved and pleased.
He reportedly told a black doorman at the White House earlier in the day that he wished he could be "out there" with the marchers.
Thurston Clarke says that after JFK watched Dr. King's speech, he said: "That's a terrific speech. He's damn good."
Dr. Martin Luther King
Speaking at the
August 28, 1963
It was A. Philip Randolph's decision to appoint Bayard Rustin as his deputy. It would be Rustin's task to make "all the pieces fit smoothly together."
Those pieces included publicity to get marchers to come to Washington, transportation, order, sanitation, bus parking, scheduling and district regulations.
Among the 250,000 marchers in Washington 50 years ago were celebrities Jackie Robinson, James Baldwin, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Diahann Carroll, Burt Lancaster and Charlton Heston.
And there were singers: Marian Anderson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, Odetta and Peter, Paul and Mary.
When the March on Washington ended, the White House issued this statement:
"We have witnessed today...tens of thousands of Americans...exercising their right to assemble peaceably and direct the widest possible attention to a great national issue.
Efforts to secure equal treatment and equal opportunity for all without regard to race, color, creed or nationality are neither novel nor difficult to understand.
What is different today is the intensified and widespread public awareness of the need to move forward in achieving these objectives."
"We Shall Overcome: The History of the Civil Rights Movement As It Happened," by Herb Boyd, Sourcebooks, Inc. Naperville, Illinois, 2004.
MAHALIA JACKSON'S WORDS TO MLK: "TELL THEM ABOUT THE DREAM!"
Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked the Queen of Gospel Music to sing "I've Been Buked and I've Been Scorned" before he spoke at the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial.
Before she sang, however, Mahalia Jackson said to Dr. King: "Martin, tell them about the dream".
Dr. King had included the "I have a dream" theme in previous speeches and sermons but it was not included in the text of his March on Washington address.
He followed Mahalia's advice, however, adding "I have a dream" to his closing his remarks.
Queen of Gospel Music
Photo by Carl Van Vechten (1962)
Photo by John White (2011)
OBAMA TO SPEAK AT LET FREEDOM RING CEREMONY COMMEMORATING THE MARCH
Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) President Barack Obama will speak today at the "LET FREEDOM RING" ceremony on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in commemoration of the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom held 50 years ago today, August 28, 1963.
Spot Where MLK Gave "The Speech"
Photo by John White (2011)
The ceremony is scheduled for 3 p.m. (EDT), the same time when MLK gave his "I Have a Dream" speech.