In 1963 A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Vice President of the AFL-CIO and Bayard Rustin, Organizer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined forces to organize a civil rights march for jobs and freedom in Washington, DC.
Without benefit of the internet, cell phones or the 24-hour news cycle, Bayard, the chief strategist behind the march, pulled off the largest mass demonstration in American history on August 28, 1963.
250,000 people, men and women from all walks of life, marched peacefully from the Washington Monument, along the reflecting pool to the base of the Lincoln Memorial to listen to the music and words of America’s human rights thought leaders.
Martin Luther King’s iconic I Have a Dream speech was delivered that day but also a call to action from John Lewis of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Bob Dylan, Marian Anderson , Mahalia Jackson and Peter, Paul and Mary sang. Actors Ossie Davis, Paul Newman, Lena Horne, Sidney Poitier and Charlton Heston (to my surprise) supported the march.
The “Big Six” organizers: James Farmer (Congress of Racial Equality), Martin Luther King, Jr. (Southern Chistian Leadership Conference), John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and Whitney Young, Jr. (National Urban League) met with President John F. Kennedy early in the day to assure the President of their peaceful intentions.
The march is credited with helping to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
This year, the 50th Anniversary Coalition for Jobs, Justice and Freedom has announced plans for a 7-day commemoration of this historic march which includes a 4-day Global Freedom Festival, a re-enactment of the march and a youth leadership conference.
“Civil Rights March on Washington, D. C.”, 08/28/1963; NWDNS-306-SSM-4D(86)3; Records of the United States Information Agency; Record Group 306; National Archives.