Despite gaining their freedom from slavery after the end of the civil war, African Americans were still facing legal discrimination in the 1950s and early 1960s. This included segregation of schools, lower wages, and discrimination when applying for jobs. The civil rights movement was an effort to bring these issues to the attention of lawmakers and the nation. One of the planned events was a march on Washington D.C. in 1963.
March on Washington from the Library of Congress
Why did people march?
The signs telling people about the march called it the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." African Americans wanted an end to segregation and the Jim Crow laws in the south. They wanted to be treated fairly and to be given a fair chance at getting jobs. The march was a peaceful way of protesting and bringing these issues to the forefront of Washington politics.
Planning the March
The March was planned to take place on August 28, 1963. 1963 was the 100 year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves during the Civil War. There were six main leaders of the march that were called the "Big Six." They included Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, John Lewis, and Whitney Young.
Because there would be so many people marching, it took a lot of planning. The Big Six met with President John F. Kennedy before the march to discuss their agenda. They agreed to do all they could to keep the march peaceful. Some cities and companies even agreed to give workers the day off.
How many people marched?
It is estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 people showed up for the march. Hundreds of buses traveled to Washington D.C. from around the country. This huge mass of people marched down the streets of the city and into the National Mall. They gathered between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. A large stage and sound system were set up at the Lincoln Memorial where the leaders would speak.
I Have a Dream
Several of the leaders spoke to the crowd from the Lincoln memorial including three of the Big Six. There were also performances by singers including Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan.
One of the final speeches was given by Martin Luther King, Jr. In this speech he spoke of his dream of a country where all people would be treated equally regardless of race. Today this speech is called the "I Have a Dream" speech and it is considered one of the greatest speeches in history. One famous quote from this speech is "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. I have a dream today!"
Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. by Rowland Scherman
Meeting with the President
When the speakers had finished and the March was over, the leaders met with President Kennedy to discuss the issues and the upcoming civil rights legislation.
The March was considered a rousing success. The issues brought up regarding civil rights and jobs were carried by the media and brought to the attention of the country. Less than one year later, on July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed.
Interesting Facts about the March on Washington
There is an inscription at the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech.
In 2013, the 50 Year Anniversary of the March on Washington was held.
There are stories of people who got to the March in unique ways including a man who roller skated from Chicago and another who bicycled from Ohio.
It was A. Philip Randolph who had the original idea for the March.
There is a U.S. postage stamp that memorializes the event.