MARCH ON WASHINGTON
The March on Washington was one of the most significant events of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. It occurred on August 28th, 1963 in Washington D.C. and was officially called the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’. Today, the March on Washington is remembered for its impact on bringing awareness to the civil rights issues facing African Americans. More specifically, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously ended the March on Washington with his ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech.
WHAT LED TO THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON?
At its heart, the March on Washington was created in response to the social, political, and economic prejudices carried out against African American people in the United States. Although, African Americans were legally freed following the events of the American Civil War, and given a series of rights by the Reconstruction Amendments (13th Amendment, 14th Amendment, and 15th Amendment), they were still suffering numerous injustices by the timeframe of the mid-20th century. For instance, the lingering effects of Jim Crow Laws and segregation were just some of the hardships faced by African Americans at this time. As a result, the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum throughout the 1950s and 1960s, with the March on Washington in 1963 being one of the more significant events of that period. As a result, the Civil Rights Movement was one of the key factors that led to the March on Washington.
It should also be noted that 1963 marked the 100-year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. This connection was important to the organizers of the March on Washington, as they wanted to include a gathering at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the events.
WHO ORGANIZED THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON?
Early planning for the March on Washington was primarily carried out by two civil rights activists - Asa Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. The two men had actually attempted to organize earlier marches in Washington going back to the 1940s. These earlier marches had the goal raising awareness regarding the rights of African Americans, specifically their rights to vote and have access to economic opportunities. For instance, in 1941, Randolph threatened to lead a march of 50,000 men on Washington due to anger over the lack of assistance for African Americans in the programs of the New Deal. President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded with Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in hiring practises, and the 1941 march was called off.
Regardless, Randolph and Rustin began the organizing for the March on Washington in 1961. Eventually, they gained the support of other leaders, who included: James Farmer, president of the Congress of Racial Equality; John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Martin Luther King Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Roy Wilkins, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and Whitney Young, president of the National Urban League. Headed primarily by Martin Luther King Jr., the Civil Rights activists pushed for Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act which could grant African Americans more economic equality.
For instance, the leaders of the March on Washington agreed on a basic set of goals. These included: the passage of Civil Rights legislation, end to school segregation, the end to discrimination in hiring practises, and a higher minimum wage for workers.
President John F. Kennedy was not thrilled with the prospects of a March on Washington, but it was thought that anything short of the Civil Rights Act being passed would be not enough to dissuade the group from marching. As such, President Kennedy eventually cooperated with the organizers in carrying out the march.
MARCH ON WASHINGTON OVERVIEW
The March on Washington was a pivotal moment in American history and a high point of the Civil Rights Movement. Historians estimate that approximately 250,000 people attended the March on Washington, making it one of the largest rallies for civil rights in American history. Furthermore, it’s estimated that approximately 80% of the attendees were African American.
The thousands of attendees were brought to Washington D.C. by trains, buses, cars and airplanes from all over the country. The March on Washington began at the Washington Monument on August 28th and the matches progressed towards the Lincoln Memorial. It was at the Lincoln Memorial that the famous speeches, songs, prayers, and other events took place.
In all there were several main speakers at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. Some of the most notable included: Walter Reuther - Head of the United Auto Workers (UAW); Roy Wilkins – leader of the NAACP; John Lewis – Chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and of course Martin Luther King.
The high point of the day was Martin Luther King Jr’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. King was the last main speaker of the day and his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech focused on major themes of the Civil Rights Movement. For instance, he highlighted racism in the United States and the many societal issues facing African Americans. The ‘I Have a Dream’ section of his speech was actually partially improvised and is remembered today for its eloquence and powerful imagery. It is arguably the most significant moment of the March on Washington and remains a celebrated moment in American history to this day.
Following the main events of the March on Washington, the leaders of the march met briefly with President John F. Kennedy to discuss civil rights issues. They had an especially keen interest in advancing the proposed Civil Rights Act that was stalled in Congress.
IMPACTS OF THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON
The March on Washington did not necessarily have the immediate impact that its leaders had perhaps hoped for. For example, the march did not immediately lead to the passing of the Civil Rights Act, and it didn’t directly lead to any other substantial event. Regardless, the March on Washington is often credited with raising awareness for the larger goals of the Civil Rights Movement.
As stated above, the main goal of the March on Washington was to bring awareness to the social, political and economic injustices faced by African American people. Without a doubt, the March on Washington achieved the goal of raising awareness since many the main speakers of the march were heavily covered by the press and televised across the United States. Also, the March on Washington had had a profound impact on the United States in the decades that followed. For instance, it is remembered today as an important moment in American history and symbolizes the major themes of the Civil Rights Movement.
While the March on Washington didn’t lead to any immediate changes, it did, however, put pressure on the government to bring forward legislative changes that sought to improve the lives of African Americans. More specifically, the March on Washington led to the eventual passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 dealt with ending discrimination against people based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 dealt with prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. Both pieces of legislation were signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Beyond this, the March on Washington is remembered today for being an example of a democratic movement that brought hope to millions of people. It serves as a reminder of the power of the democratic process and the possibilities of people when they are united and committed to a higher cause, such as civil rights. The March on Washington remains a celebrated event in American history and the impact it had on American society continues to this day.
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