The March on Washington

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which occurred on August 28, 1963, was a large-scale peaceful protest for desegregation and economic equality. It is often cited as a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1941, A. Phillip Randolph, an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement, originated the idea of having a march to spread awareness about the job discrimination African Americans faced. In the late 1950s, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was also looking to organize a march for freedom to encourage the passing of the Civil Rights Act in Congress, which had been stalled. Randolph and MLK decided to combine the marches into one, hence the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

News of the march spread and more organizations began to participate and sponsor the march, including the “Big Six,” which consisted of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the SCLC, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the National Urban League. The logistics of the march were largely handled by Bayard Rustin, a gay civil rights activist and advisor to MLK.

On the day of the march, approximately 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Amongst many other prominent speakers, MLK gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Making use of Biblical references and powerful rhetoric, MLK called for a nation in which his children would not “be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” There were over 3,000 reporters in attendance, making the large rally highly publicized and effective in inspiring public support for the movement.

On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It also prohibits unequal application of voter registration requirements, and racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations.