Motown Record Album, “The Great March to Freedom: Rev. Martin Luther King Speaks, June 23, 1963.” THF31935
Detroit’s Walk to Freedom, held on June 23, 1963, helped move the southern Civil Rights struggle to a new focus on the urban North. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. later called this march “one of the most wonderful things that has happened in America.”
Organized by the Detroit Council on Human Rights, this was the largest Civil Rights demonstration to date. Its main purpose was to speak out against Southern segregation and the brutality that faced Civil Rights activists there. It was also meant to raise consciousness about the unique concerns of African Americans in the urban North, which included discriminatory hiring practices, wages, education, and housing. The date was chosen to correlate with both the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 20th anniversary of the 1943 Detroit race riots that had left 34 people (mostly African American) dead. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who agreed to lead the march, had by this time become committed to uniting both North and South through his grand vision of achieving racial justice by using non-violent protest.
On the day of the march, about 125,000 people filed down Woodward Avenue, singing freedom songs and carrying signs demanding racial equality. Some 15,000 spectators watched them pass by a 21-block area before turning west down Jefferson Avenue to Cobo Hall. Cobo was filled to capacity to hear the speeches of the march’s leaders while thousands more listened to them on loudspeakers outside. Of the speeches given that day, Dr. King’s was the most memorable. People were riveted while he expressed his vision for the future, sharing a dream that foreshadowed the “I Have a Dream” speech that he would give a few months later at the March on Washington.
Berry Gordy, founder of the Motown Record Corporation, considered Detroit’s Walk to Freedom to be such a historic event that he offered the resources of his Hitsville studio to produce a record album documenting Dr. King’s impassioned words. Gordy heightened the drama of the event by titling the album, “The Great March to Freedom: Reverend Martin Luther King Speaks.” He believed that this record belonged in every home, that it should be required listening for “every child, white or black.” No one realized at the time, including Gordy, that the August March on Washington would become the more remembered event.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams of social justice, voiced at Detroit’s Walk to Freedom, would prove elusive. Despite the fact that Detroit had gained a national reputation for being a “model city” of race relations at the time, in reality the city’s African-American population faced unemployment, housing discrimination, de facto segregation in public schools, and police brutality. Ultimately this disconnect between perception and reality would lead to the violence and civil unrest of July 1967.
For more on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom held on August 28, 1963, take a look at this post.
Donna R. Braden is the Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
Why Remember Detroit '67? What started out as a police raid on an after-hours club early Sunday morning, July 23, 1967, escalated into five days and nights of uncontrolled violence, looting, and arson that left 43 people dead, 1,189 injured, and over 7,200 arrested. While civil unrest had occurred in many other cities before and during that summer, this event stood out as the largest of these uprisings until the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968.
Many people wondered how this could happen in Detroit—a city thought to have good race relations. What soon became apparent was African Americans’ anger and frustration at the lack of progress that had been made in achieving basic rights and equality, even after the long struggles of the Civil Rights movement and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Several root causes of the uprising were cited, including: unemployment and job discrimination, substandard housing, poverty, low-quality education, lack of access to medical facilities, police brutality, mistreatment by white merchants, shortage of city services, and white indifference to these problems.
Despite efforts on many fronts to move past the devastation and bitter memories of 1967, Detroit is still considered a divided city today.
The Detroit 67 Project The vision of The Detroit Historical Society’s groundbreaking project is to use the memory and legacy of this historic crisis as a “catalyst to engage, reflect, and provide opportunities to take the collective action that can help move our community forward.” To accomplish this, the Society has encouraged community-wide collaborators to lead programs, workshops, and discussions, collect oral histories, and/or share related archives and collections through exhibitions, publications, or websites. We have chosen to share digital content on our website related to topics that laid foundations for and offered responses to the upheaval that occurred in Detroit (and other cities) in 1967.
Our Involvement Our mission, core collecting topics, and strategic plan all make this collaboration a perfect fit for us. First, our mission statement includes a call to action: to inspire people to shape a better future by learning from the traditions of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and innovation. Second, one of our core collecting topics is social transformation, which involves a shift in people’s collective consciousness, leading to new values, relationships, and patterns of behavior. Finally, aligning with our larger institutional strategic plan, the goals for digital content on our website include relevance, community impact, national awareness, and sustainability.
Because of the national scope of our collections, we have organized our digital offerings listed below into categories of before and after the events of July 1967. We hope this rich and wide-ranging content deepens your understanding of the foundations, context, and impact of this historical crisis. This content not only sheds light on the past but can also provide a jumping-off point to encourage conversation and inspire action into the future.
Kathryn Emerson and Dr. James Buntin were interested and active in social causes such as welfare rights, Civil Rights, and education, among others, during the 1960s and 1970s, and the collection contains dozens of buttons that we’ve just digitized, including this one proudly declaring “Be Black Baby.” We’ve also recently digitized some of the couple’s clothing, books, and other materials.
In a rare moment, one person’s simple act of courage can change the world. On the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, we pause to reflect on the impact and legacy of her courageous action.
Rosa’s awareness of social injustice started at an early age. As a girl growing up in Alabama, Rosa hated the disrespectful way that whites often treated black people. Her grandfather, a former slave, instilled a sense of pride and independence in her.
This week on “The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation” you’ll learn about Rosa Parks and the Rosa Parks Bus. Want to learn more about Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement? Take a look below.
Jeanne Theoharis’ definitive political biography of Rosa Parks sets out to correct the popular myth of Rosa Parks as the quiet, tired seamstress who refused to give up her seat on Montgomery City Lines Bus #2857. Through extensive and intricate research, Theoharis asserts that Rosa Parks spent years working courageously for civil rights. She prepared herself with an assured readiness, which she could rely on when an opportunity occurred as it did on the bus on December 1, 1955.
As Theoharis points out, Parks started her political activist career at an early age, decades before she refused to give up her bus seat. Parks and husband Raymond, who met in 1931, shared a passion for taking action against segregation laws. She joined the Montgomery NAACP in 1943 as a volunteer advocate organizing black youth groups and trying to bring justice for young black women raped by white men. A few years later, she became the secretary of the NAACP — working with E.D. Nixon, president of the Montgomery NAACP chapter — to advocate for anti-lynching laws and overcoming the formidable process of registering black people to vote.
Rosa Parks also was a strong advocate for integrating whites and blacks. In 1947, the Freedom Train, carrying historic copies of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights and the original Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation, “was scheduled to stop in Montgomery and Parks published a report objecting to Montgomery’s all-white train committee,” according to Theoharis. The national requirement that the exhibit be racially integrated was highly controversial in Montgomery, Birmingham and Memphis. Parks and her colleagues were instrumental in bringing the Freedom Train to Montgomery as they pressured city officials to ensure all children would actually enter on a first-come, first-served basis. As the Montgomery NAACP secretary, she created several campaigns for racial integration, wrote numerous press releases countering white arguments for segregation and continued to mount successive and tireless campaigns for black voter registration.
Theoharis brings us through six decades of Parks’ courageous life as a political activist, which had serious consequences for her and her family. Great economic stress, constant harassment and people threatening physical harm and even death were now part of her life. Despite the private toll, Parks continued to publicly urge perseverance for the civil rights movement, never retiring as an advocate for racial justice.
Theoharis’ The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks is an exceptional scholarly work that offers a great story for its readers and should be part of every library and classroom. This work provides a new awareness of the importance of an American icon whose real history is better and far more relevant to move our society forward than the myth of a tired seamstress.
Review by Christian W. Øverland, former Executive Vice President of The Henry Ford.
Reflecting upon Nelson Mandela’s death on December 5, journalist and former news anchor Dan Rather remarked, “Mandela’s legacy is on a line with those of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King—both of whom inspired him...”
The Henry Ford owns important historical objects that convey meaning and provide relevance for this line of courageous freedom fighters.
Mahatma Gandhi—champion for Indian nationalism in British-ruled India—gave Henry Ford this spinning wheel in 1941. Gandhi’s gift represented a commitment to world peace that he and Ford shared. Mandela often called Gandhi a role model.
Mandela acknowledged others in the long struggle for human rights. He once said, “Before King there was Rosa Parks. She inspired us…to be fearless when facing oppressors.” Mandela claimed that Rosa Parks’ courageous act sustained him while in prison. He was overjoyed to meet her in 1990, soon after his release from prison. The bus in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955 to a white man represents a decisive moment in the American Civil Rights movement.
In noting Mandela’s passing, President Obama recounted that his first experience in political activism was a protest against apartheid, and Mandela became a personal inspiration to him. Obama reflected, “Never discount the difference that one person can make.” Such perspective may have been present as he sat on the Rosa Parks bus during a 2012 visit to Henry Ford Museum.
With humility and respect for these extraordinary leaders, we hope that these objects and stories can both remind us of all that Mandela stood for and help contribute to ongoing conversations about social justice in our country and the world.
Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. Photo by Ted Eytan.
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.
In honor of Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday and our Day of Courage celebration earlier this year, the education team at The Henry Ford developed a special educational activity book for children that focuses on social innovation and how the civil rights pioneer took a stand against injustice. Writing and designing the book “Be an Innovator Like…Rosa Parks,” gave us an opportunity to learn more about Rosa Parks and extend the legacy she left on our country.
To prepare ourselves for writing the book, we read about Rosa’s family, especially her grandfather, who instilled a sense of pride in her, and her husband Raymond, who encouraged her to fight for equality. We researched the many other individuals who challenged segregations laws on buses in the South. And we looked into other social innovators who were inspired by Rosa Parks, like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. When we finally sat down to write, we knew we wanted to make Rosa Parks relatable to young students through this book, to show them that they can do extraordinary things, too.
In order for the book to stand out from other activity books on the shelf we designed it to be shaped like the real Rosa Parks bus on display inside Henry Ford Museum. The book, which is geared towards children in grades K-5, uses the “learning by doing” strategy and is broken down into fun activities that teach children milestone historic events in the life of Rosa Parks, and other past and present social innovators. The book includes colorful photographs from our collections, vocabulary building and mapping activities, and creative visualization and writing opportunities.
This activity book is the second in a series of innovation-themed children’s activity books. The first book in the series on Henry Ford became extremely popular last year among teachers and students nationwide.
“Rosa Parks’ story is such an inspiration for children,” said Paula Gangopadhyay, Chief Learning Officer for The Henry Ford. “The book is filled with critical information around Rosa Parks’ life and the iconic bus, but it is packaged in a kid-friendly format which will make learning fun.”
The book is aligned to Michigan and National Curriculum Standards, including the Common Core, and can be used in the classroom or at home. We know that social innovation is a complex topic for children, but it was our hope to inspire young readers to think about how they can make a difference in their own life, and how that difference could someday change the world.
You can purchase the book in any of the museum stores or through our online gift shop. We’re also offering a special discount if you buy 20 or more books together, which is great for teachers and youth service providers!