March on Washington, D.C. for Jobs and Freedom August 28, 1963
By John E. Hansan, Ph.D., An Organizer for Cincinnati’s Delegation
A major event in the centuries-long struggle to help Black Americans achieve equal rights was the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” On August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people from across the nation came together in Washington, D.C. to peacefully demonstrate their support for the passage of a meaningful civil rights bill, an end to racial segregation in schools and the creation of jobs for the unemployed. It was the largest demonstration ever held in the nation’s capital, and one of the first to have extensive television coverage. The march is remembered too as the occasion for Reverend Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. It was a speech of hope and determination, and it epitomized the message the marchers proclaimed of racial harmony and a belief that Black and White Americans could live together in peace. The march also gave widespread publicity and political impetus to the then pending civil rights legislation a version of which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964.
During the early 1960s, numerous civil rights demonstrations and protests were held, particularly in the south. The widespread use of non-violent peaceful civil rights demonstrations in the south in the 1960s can be said to have started on February 1, 1960 when, after shopping for school supplies in a Woolworth department store in Greensboro, N.C., four black freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College asked to be served at the store’s segregated lunch counter. The basic plan of the sit-ins was that a group of students would go to a lunch counter and ask to be served. If they were, they would move on to the next lunch counter. If they were not served they would not move until they had been. If they were arrested, a new group would take their place. The students always remained nonviolent and respectful. Some students in northern cities eventually joined the protests and by August 1961, the movement had attracted over 70,000 participants and resulted in more than 3,000 arrests.
Building on the success of the “sit-ins,” another type of protest was planned using “Freedom Riders.” The Freedom Riders were a volunteer group of men and women, Black and White, young and old (many from university and college campuses) across the country who boarded buses, trains and planes bound for the deep south to challenge outdated laws and practices and the region’s non-compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibited segregation in all interstate public transportation facilities. The most notable Freedom Ride was one that left Washington DC on May 4, 1961 and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans, LA on May 17. These Freedom Riders never made it to New Orleans: many spent their summer in jail. But their efforts were not in vain. The Kennedy administration was forced to take a stand on civil rights, which was the intent of the Freedom Rides in the first place. Also, the Interstate Commerce Commission, at the request of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, outlawed segregation in interstate bus travel.
These and other civil rights demonstrations moved President John F. Kennedy to send to Congress a civil rights bill on June 19, 1963. The proposed legislation offered federal protection to African Americans seeking to vote, to shop, to eat out, and to be educated on equal terms. To capitalize on the growing public support for the civil rights movement and to put pressure Congress to adopt civil rights legislation, the major civil rights groups was formed a coalition to plan and organize a large national demonstration in the nation’s capital. The hope was to enlist a hundred thousand people to come to Washington, D.C.
Initially, the March on Washington was supported by leaders of the “Big Six” civil rights organizations: James Farmer, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., .Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); John Lewis, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Roy Wilkins, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and Whitney Young, National Urban League. The march was planned to take place on August 28, 1963 and Bayard Rustin was named chief coordinator of the March.
A short time later, the sponsoring committee was expanded to included religious and labor interests: Matthew Ahman, National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice; Reverend Eugene Carson Blake, Commission on Race Relations of the National Council of Churches; Rabbi Joachim Prinz, American Jewish Committee; and Walter Reuther, UAW & AFL-CIO. The march organizers published a list of their demands: the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; a major public-works program to provide jobs for unemployed workers, “Negro” and White; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2 an hour minimum wage; and a new Executive Order banning discrimination in all housing supported by federal funds. Details about the purpose, sponsors and plans for the organization and conduct of the march were included in a document called “Organizing Manual No. 2”
An “Appeal by the March Leaders?” distributed in advance of the event stated, “…It [the march] was conceived as an outpouring of deep feeling of millions of white and colored American citizens that the time has come for the Government of the United States of America and particularly the Congress of that Government, to grant and guarantee complete equality in citizenship to the Negro minority of our population…It [the march] will be orderly, but not subservient. It will be proud, but not arrogant. It will be nonviolent, but not timid. It will be unified in purposes and behavior, not splintered into groups and individual competitors….”
The Cincinnati Committee for the Washington March?
Those who discounted the appeal of the march were astounded to discover that it received broad support from many sectors of American life. Local religious, labor and civic organizations joined the major civil rights groups in planning, publicizing the march and recruiting participants. For example, in Cincinnati, OH (an area sometimes referred to as “up south” because of its conservative politics and treatment of Blacks) a Committee For The Washington March was formed and included leaders from the local affiliates of the AFL-CIO, Catholic Interracial Council, CORE, Council of Churches, Jewish Community Relations Committee, NAACP and Flyers promoting the march were widely distributed and supporters were encouraged to contact their friends, neighbors and colleagues in churches, lodges, union halls and other organizations to which they belonged. Active promotion of the march resulted in approximately 500 Cincinnati area residents paying their own fare for a two-night round trip to Washington, DC on a chartered train. Leaving Cincinnati’s Union Station at 5:00 p.m. on August 27, the Cincinnati areea contingent arrived in Washington, D.C. at 8:15 a.m. on August 28. Because of long lines on the train, a number of Cincinnatians chose to freshen up in the public rest rooms at Union Station. The rest room experience proved to be a very good omen for one of the marchers.
After leaving Washington’s Union Station, the Cincinnati area marchers joined up with other delegations and walked to the Washington Monument grounds where the marchers were instructed to assemble. Participants carried a variety of signs and joined in singing civil rights songs and hymns. At the Washington Monument, a stage had been set up and famous singers and Hollywood stars entertained the crowd waiting to march to the Lincoln Memorial and the start of the formal program. Among the entertainers and stars that morning were: Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Odetta, Josh White, Ossie Davis, Marlon Brando, Sammy Davis, Jr., Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll, Paul Newman, and Harry Belafonte.
The formal program started from a platform in front of the Lincoln Memorial at 2:00 p.m. Ms. Marian Anderson was delayed and not able to open the program singing The National Anthem. After the invocation, March Director, A. Philip Randolph, addressed the crowd. After remarks by Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, Bayard Rustin, in the absence of Mrs. Myrlie Evers, paid tribute to “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom.” He introduced several Black civil rights leaders and activists, including Rosa Parks, Daisy Bates, Diane Nash, Gloria Richardson, and Mrs. Herbert Lee (widow of the slain Mississippi activist), as well as citing Myrlie Evers, widow of Medgar Evers, the assassinated civil rights leader. Dr. King was the last speaker and delivered an eloquent articulation of the American dream and his hope that it would be fully realized. Entitled “I Have a Dream,” the speech outlined his hopes for a time when his “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.”
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How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hansan, J.E. (2010, December 13). March on Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963. Retrieved [date accessed] from /eras/march-on-washington-august-28-1963/.
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