March on Washington 50th Anniversary
Today, on Aug. 28, 2013, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Of all the events that occurred that day 50 years ago, it is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech that is most often remembered today. That speech—which went far beyond what King had initially planned—has been considered one of the most inspiring and powerful speeches of all time.
But what else happened that day?
Take a closer look at the March on Washington through these five artifacts from the collections of The Henry Ford.
As this pennant shows, the March on Washington was not solely a Civil Rights demonstration. It actually started as a march for jobs. This march was the brainchild of A. Philip Randolph, 73-year-old founder of the famous black union for Pullman porters, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He had talked of staging a march similar to this one back in 1941, to protest the lack of military defense jobs for African Americans. Now, 22 years later, African Americans had still not made much progress, in either employment opportunities or equitable wages. When Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders decided to combine forces with Randolph, the march took on the broader meaning that we associate with it today.
Once they decided to join forces, several black Civil Rights organizations came together to plan the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington. Each group had different outlooks, agendas, and reasons for being there. But, working together, they created the list of demands on this handbill. While all the leaders could rally around the new Civil Rights bill that President Kennedy had just introduced to Congress, most of them wanted more—more assurance of jobs, reasonable wages, and an end to segregation and discrimination. Handbills like this one were posted in local communities to inspire people to attend the March.
The organizers of the March had hoped for 100,000 marchers to show up. But, by 11:00 the morning of Aug. 28, some 250,000 marchers had arrived in Washington, D.C., having come by bus, train, foot, bicycle, and even on roller skates. Many had traveled hundreds, even thousands, of miles to get there. Most had paid their own way. The March was held on a Wednesday, so many people had to miss a day or more of work. While most in attendance were African American, there was a strong contingent of white marchers as well. The photograph that appears on the front of this record album depicts just a small segment of the hundreds of thousands of marchers that attended that day. Leaders of the event can be seen spanning the row in the foreground.
This program is a fascinating document of the day’s events. Speakers from each of the Civil Rights organizations who had helped plan the March offered remarks, as did labor leader Walter Reuther and members of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish organizations. A “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” included Rosa Parks. After about two hours of speeches, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech ignited the hot, tired crowd. Then, A. Philip Randolph—the original instigator of the March—read the words of a pledge that the marchers were to agree to, raising their voices in the affirmative. The words of this pledge still ring with the hope and determination that defined that day 50 years ago. The following is an excerpt:
I pledge to carry the message of the March to my friends and neighbors back home and arouse them to an equal commitment and equal effort. I will march and I will write letters. I will demonstrate and I will vote. I will work to make sure that my voice and those of my brothers ring clear and determined from every corner of our land.
I pledge my heart and my mind and my body unequivocally and without regard to personal sacrifice to the achievement of social peace through social justice.
In acknowledgement of the 50th anniversary of the March, a 20-minute film produced by the National Archives featuring historic footage will run on a loop throughout the day by "Your Place in Time" in Henry Ford Museum. From the U.S. Information Agency:
Experience the American Journey through our country's visual heritage in this historical recording provided by the National Archives of the United States. Scenes from the Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C., August 1963 includes footage featuring people walking up sidewalk; gathering on Mall, standing, and singing. It also includes people marching with signs, people at the speaker's podium, men with guitars, and crowds outside of the White House. A number of speakers are featured, including Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Also included are women at the podium singing "We Shall Overcome."
Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
1960s, 20th century, Washington DC, Civil Rights, by Donna R. Braden, African American history