The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom August 28th 1963
by Bruce Doorly
Due to recent events I have decided that this month my article will be about the landmark civil rights march that was held on August 28th 1963, in Washington D.C.. The official name was The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

It was there that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous I Have a Dream speech. This march/rally was well organized, peaceful, had a clear message with goals, and led to significant laws being passed.
It was 1963, the civil rights movement was in full swing. Black Americans, long denied equal rights, had achieved a few legal victories such as the 1954 ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education to desegregate schools.

Also, in 1954-55 in Montgomery, Alabama, a bus boycott to protest whites being given first priority seating led to a Supreme Court decision to abolish that practice.
Rosa Parks started the bus boycott
But the legal victories for equal rights were few, and often, as with school desegregation, implementation moved at a very slow pace. So, in 1963, Black civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph decided that a major civil rights march in Washington D. C. was needed.

The timing was appropriate as it was the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves.
A. Philip Randolph
Several Black civil rights organizations came together to plan this. The groups were the NAACP, CORE, SNCC, and SCLC. They all had different strategies and goals, as well as leaders with their own agendas and egos.

But they put their differences aside and managed to work with one another to plan this protest march. The planners had much to do. They needed to decide what the goals of the march would be and who would get to speak. And would there be any kind of entertainment? They also had to make sure that there would be widely available food and water.
The organizers were John Lewis, Whitney Young,
A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King,
James Farmer, and Roy Wilkens
Perhaps the most important thing they planned for was to install an excellent sound system. Powerful audio speakers were mounted on many poles going into where the crowd would be standing.

Word was put out throughout the country that this was an important event. Those who cared about equal rights must attend. The date was set for Wednesday, August 28th 1963. They had hoped for 100,000 people to attend.
Law enforcement, as well as the organizers, had feared that there could be violence. Hundreds of policemen were staffed that day and the local jails had inmates transferred to make room for the expected arrests.

While violence was feared, it should be noted that Martin Luther King Jr., recognized leader of the civil rights movement, had been successfully promoting a strategy of non-violent protest. A tactic that they held to even when they were being clubbed by police or attacked by white supremacists. The strategy was that their non-violent response would elicit sympathy with the majority of Americans. This tactic was working as a significant portion of white America was beginning to support their cause.
A prime example of this was a couple months back when they were protesting for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama. They were attacked by the police (led by notorious police chief Bull Connor), with clubs, dogs, and high-pressure water hoses.

These images were captured on film and shown on the nightly news. President John Kennedy along with the rest of America (and the world) were horrified and finally began to realize that it was time to give Black Americans their due rights.
On the day of the march hundreds of chartered buses brought people to the Capital city. Locally, two churches in Plainfield organized bus trips. Statewide it was estimated that 9000 people from New Jersey attended the march.

Dozens of extra trains brought thousands more. Many came by car. They traveled from all over from the north, south, east, and west. Many of the long rides began in the middle of the night. As people arrived throughout the early morning it became apparent that the goal of 100,000 would be easily met.

The crowd would be around 250,000. Of these 85% were black and 15% were white.
The initial gathering place was at the Washington Monument. From there they would march one mile to the Lincoln Memorial.

Before they marched, the marchers were given signs to carry. (They were told not to bring their own signs.) These signs were professional looking with various, clearly worded demands - such as We March For Jobs for all, A Decent Pay Now!, We Demand Voting Rights Now, We March for Integrated Schools Now, and We Demand an End to Police Brutality.
The site of the crowd that assembled around the Lincoln Memorial and the reflecting pool was simply amazing.

There was a sense of unity among all those present. At one point everyone, blacks and whites, held hands while singing.

There was practically no violence at all that day.
Several musical acts performed including Peter, Paul and Mary who sang If I Had A Hammer and Blowing in the Wind.

Joan Baez sang the theme song of the civil rights movement We Shall Overcome.

Mahalia Jackson sang two gospel songs. There were several speakers, mostly leaders from the Black organizations including A. Philip Randolph, who had organized the March.
Peter, Paul, and Mary
The last speaker was Martin Luther King Jr. who was introduced as the moral leader of our nation. He had prepared his speech just the night before. It was a difficult task as many leaders gave input on what should be said. He would speak for 17 minutes. About 3/4 of the way through his speech he felt he had not yet adequately tapped the spirit of the day. He was about to say the forgettable line And so today, let us go back to our communities as members of the international association for the advancement of creative dissatisfaction, when Mahalia Jackson yelled out tell them about the dream, Martin.

The Dream was the theme to another speech that he had given on previous occasions that Mahalia was familiar with. Martin Luther King Jr. then deviated from the rest of his prepared text to deliver what many consider one of the greatest speeches of all time.
Highlights of that speech include:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream 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.
He finished his speech in dramatic fashion with the memorable Free at Last, Free at Last . Many in the audience were crying - overwhelmed with emotion by the hope that he was inspiring.

The speech and rally were shown on the major news networks. It was the first time that many whites had ever even heard blacks speaking in a professional manner. For their limited exposure to blacks in that era was usually on television, radio, and in the movies where blacks usually were depicted in stereotypical roles or as fools.
The momentum generated by the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is credited by historians with resulting in the passage of The Civil Rights Act in 1964 (which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination) and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The March on Washington was a major success. It was a landmark day in American History.

Today, race relations in this country have turned ugly. Hopefully that historic day in August of 1963 can remind us that we can come together and cooperate peacefully to bring about resolutions to our most pressing issues.