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Wed Aug 28, 2019, 10:07 AM

56 Years Ago Today; the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom - "I have a dream"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_on_Washington_for_Jobs_and_Freedom



The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the March on Washington, or The Great March on Washington, was held in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, August 28, 1963. The purpose of the march was to advocate for the civil and economic rights of African Americans. At the march, Martin Luther King Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech in which he called for an end to racism.

The march was organized by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, who built an alliance of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations that came together under the banner of "jobs and freedom." Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 to 300,000; the most widely cited estimate is 250,000 people. Observers estimated that 75–80% of the marchers were black. The march was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history.

The march is credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and preceded the Selma Voting Rights Movement which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The March


Bayard Rustin (left) and Cleveland Robinson (right), organizers of the March.

The march commanded national attention by preempting regularly scheduled television programs. As the first ceremony of such magnitude ever initiated and dominated by African Americans, the march also was the first to have its nature wholly misperceived in advance. Dominant expectations ran from paternal apprehension to dread. On Meet the Press, reporters grilled Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King about widespread foreboding that "it would be impossible to bring more than 100,000 militant Negroes into Washington without incidents and possibly rioting." Life magazine declared that the capital was suffering "its worst case of invasion jitters since the First Battle of Bull Run." The Pentagon readied 19,000 troops in the suburbs and the jails shifted inmates to other prisons to make room for those arrested in mass arrests; the city banned all sales of alcoholic beverages; hospitals made room for riot casualties by postponing elective surgery. With nearly 1,700 extra correspondents supplementing the Washington press corps, the march drew a media assembly larger than the Kennedy inauguration two years earlier. Students from the University of California came together as black power organizations and emphasized on the importance of African American freedom struggle. The march included black political parties and William Worthy who was one of many who lead college students during the freedom struggle era.

On August 28, more than 2,000 buses, 21 chartered trains, 10 chartered airliners, and uncounted cars converged on Washington. All regularly scheduled planes, trains, and buses were also filled to capacity.

Although Randolph and Rustin had originally planned to fill the streets of Washington, D.C., the final route of the March covered only half of the National Mall. The march began at the Washington Monument and was scheduled to progress to the Lincoln Memorial with a program of music and speakers. Demonstrators were met at the monument by speakers and musicians. Women leaders were asked to march down Independence Avenue, while the male leaders marched on Pennsylvania Avenue with the media.


Nearly 250,000 people marched, including 60,000 white participants

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 leaders met the March at Constitution Avenue, where they linked arms at the head of a crowd in order to be photographed 'leading the march'.


Leaders arrive and link arms in front of marchers on Constitution Avenue.

Marchers were not supposed to create their own signs, though this rule was not completely enforced by marshals. Most of the demonstrators did carry pre-made signs, available in piles at the Washington Monument. The UAW provided thousands of signs that, among other things, read: "There Is No Halfway House on the Road to Freedom," "Equal Rights and Jobs NOW," "UAW Supports Freedom March," "in Freedom we are Born, in Freedom we must Live," and "Before we'll be a Slave, we'll be Buried in our Grave."

About 50 members of the American Nazi Party staged a counter-protest and were quickly dispersed by police. The rest of Washington was quiet during the March. Most non-participating workers stayed home. Jailers allowed inmates to watch the March on TV.

Speakers


Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Leaders of the march posing in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln). Pictured are: (standing L-R) director of the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice Matthew Ahmann, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader John Lewis, Protestant minister Eugene Carson Blake, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) leader Floyd McKissick, and labor union leader Walter Reuther; (sitting L-R) National Urban League executive director Whitney Young, chairman of the Demonstration Committee Cleveland Robinson, labor union leader A. Philip Randolph, Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leader Roy Wilkins

Representatives from each of the sponsoring organizations addressed the crowd from the podium at the Lincoln Memorial. Speakers (dubbed "The Big Ten" ) included The Big Six; three religious leaders (Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish); and labor leader Walter Reuther. None of the official speeches were by women; Josephine Baker gave a speech during the preliminary offerings, but women's presence in the official program was limited to a "tribute" led by Bayard Rustin, at which Daisy Bates spoke (see "excluded speakers" below.)

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."[86]

The actual order of the speakers was as follows: 1. A. Philip Randolph – March Director, 2. Walter Reuther – UAW, AFL-CIO, 3. Roy Wilkins – NAACP, 4. John Lewis – SNCC, 5. Daisy Bates – Little Rock, Arkansas, 6. Dr. Eugene Carson Blake – United Presbyterian Church and the National Council of Churches, 7. Floyd McKissick –CORE, 8. Whitney Young – National Urban League, 9. Several smaller speeches, including Rabbi Joachim Prinz – American Jewish Congress, Mathew Ahmann – National Catholic Conference, Josephine Baker – actress, and 10. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – SCLC. Then closing remarks by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, March Organizers, leading with The Pledge and list of demands.

Official program


March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom program

Marian Anderson was scheduled to lead the National Anthem but was unable to arrive on time; Camilla Williams performed in her place. Following an invocation by Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle, the opening remarks were given by march director A. Philip Randolph, followed by Eugene Carson Blake. A tribute to "Negro Women Fighters for Freedom" was then led by Bayard Rustin, at which Daisy Bates spoke briefly in place of Myrlie Evers, who had missed her flight. The tribute introduced Daisy Bates, Diane Nash, Prince E. Lee, Rosa Parks, and Gloria Richardson. The following speakers were SNCC chairman John Lewis, labor leader Walter Reuther and CORE chairman Floyd McKissick (substituting for arrested CORE director James Farmer). The Eva Jessye Choir then sang, and Rabbi Uri Miller (president of the Synagogue Council of America) offered a prayer, followed by National Urban League director Whitney Young, NCCIJ director Mathew Ahmann, and NAACP leader Roy Wilkins. After a performance by singer Mahalia Jackson, American Jewish Congress president Joachim Prinz spoke, followed by SCLC president Martin Luther King Jr. Rustin then read the march's official demands for the crowd's approval, and Randolph led the crowd in a pledge to continue working for the march's goals. The program was closed with a benediction by Morehouse College president Benjamin Mays.

Although one of the officially stated purposes of the march was to support the civil rights bill introduced by the Kennedy Administration, several of the speakers criticized the proposed law as insufficient. Two government agents stood by in a position to cut power to the microphone if necessary.

Roy Wilkins
Roy Wilkins announced that W. E. B. Du Bois had died in Ghana the previous night; the crowd observed a moment of silence in his memory.[ Wilkins had initially refused to announce the news because he despised Du Bois as a Communist—but then insisted on making the announcement when he realized that Randolph would make it if he didn't. Wilkins said: "Regardless of the fact that in his later years Dr. Du Bois chose another path, it is incontrovertible that at the dawn of the twentieth century his was the voice that was calling you to gather here today in this cause. If you want to read something that applies to 1963 go back and get a volume of The Souls of Black Folk by Du Bois, published in 1903."

John Lewis
John Lewis of SNCC was the youngest speaker at the event. His speech—which a number of SNCC activists had helped write—took the Administration to task for how little it had done to protect southern blacks and civil rights workers under attack in the Deep South. Deleted from his original speech at the insistence of more conservative and pro-Kennedy leaders were phrases such as:

In good conscience, we cannot support wholeheartedly the administration's civil rights bill, for it is too little and too late. ...

I want to know, which side is the federal government on? ...

The revolution is a serious one. Mr. Kennedy is trying to take the revolution out of the streets and put it into the courts. Listen, Mr. Kennedy. Listen, Mr. Congressman. Listen, fellow citizens. The black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom, and we must say to the politicians that there won't be a "cooling-off" period.

... We will march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own scorched earth policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground—nonviolently ...


Lewis' speech was distributed to fellow organizers the evening before the march, garnering resistance from Reuther, O'Boye, and others who thought it was too divisive and militant. O'Boyle objected most strenuously to a part of the speech that called for immediate action and disavowed "patience." The government and moderate organizers could not countenance Lewis' explicit opposition to Kennedy's civil rights bill. That night, O'Boyle and other members of the Catholic delegation began preparing a statement announcing their withdrawal from the March. Reuther convinced them to wait and called Rustin; Rustin informed Lewis at 2 A.M. on the day of the march that his speech was unacceptable to key coalition members. (Rustin also reportedly contacted Tom Kahn, mistakenly believing that Kahn had edited the speech and inserted the line about Sherman's March to the Sea. Rustin asked, "How could you do this? Do you know what Sherman did?) But Lewis did not want to change the speech. Other members of SNCC, including Stokely Carmichael, were also adamant that the speech not be censored. The dispute continued until minutes before talks were scheduled to begin. Under threat of public denouncement by the religious leaders, and under pressure from the rest of his coalition, Lewis agreed to omit the 'inflammatory' passages. Many activists from SNCC, CORE, and even SCLC were angry at what they considered censorship of his speech. In the end, Lewis added a qualified endorsement of Kennedy's civil rights legislation, saying: "It is true that we support the administration's Civil Rights Bill. We support it with great reservation, however." Even after toning down his speech, Lewis called for activists to "get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes".

Martin Luther King Jr.


Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech

The speech given by SCLC president King, who spoke last, became known as the "I Have a Dream" speech, which was carried live by TV stations and subsequently considered the most impressive moment of the march. In it, King called for an end to racism in the United States. It invoked the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the United States Constitution. At the end of the speech, Mahalia Jackson shouted from the crowd, "Tell them about the dream, Martin!", and King departed from his prepared text for a partly improvised peroration on the theme of "I have a dream". Over time it has been hailed as a masterpiece of rhetoric, added to the National Recording Registry and memorialized by the National Park Service with an inscription on the spot where King stood to deliver the speech.

Randolph and Rustin
A. Philip Randolph spoke first, promising: "we shall return again and again to Washington in ever growing numbers until total freedom is ours." Randolph also closed the event along with Bayard Rustin. Rustin followed King's speech by slowly reading the list of demands. The two concluded by urging attendees to take various actions in support of the struggle.

Walter Reuther
Walter Reuther urged Americans to pressure their politicians to act to address racial injustices. He said,

American democracy is on trial in the eyes of the world ... We cannot successfully preach democracy in the world unless we first practice democracy at home. American democracy will lack the moral credentials and be both unequal to and unworthy of leading the forces of freedom against the forces of tyranny unless we take bold, affirmative, adequate steps to bridge the moral gap between American democracy's noble promises and its ugly practices in the field of civil rights.


According to Irving Bluestone, who was standing near the platform while Reuther delivered his remarks, he overheard two black women talking. One asked, "Who is that white man?" The other replied, "Don't you know him? That's the white Martin Luther King."

<snip>

Meeting with President Kennedy


Kennedy meets with march leaders

After the March, the speakers travelled to the White House for a brief discussion of proposed civil rights legislation with President Kennedy. Kennedy had watched King's speech on TV and was very impressed. According to biographer Thomas C. Reeves, Kennedy "felt that he would be booed at the March, and also didn't want to meet with organizers before the March because he didn't want a list of demands. He arranged a 5 P.M. meeting at the White House with the 10 leaders on the 28th." The March was considered a "triumph of managed protest" and Kennedy felt it was a victory for him as well—bolstering the chances for his civil rights bill.

</snip>




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