The March on Washington

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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 and major moment in American History.

In 1941, the labor organizer A. Phillip Randolph originated the idea of having a march to spread awareness about the job discrimination Black people in America faced during World War 2. He teamed with the civil rights leader Bayard Rustin and called for 100,000 people to march on Washington, DC to call for fair hiring by defense contractors.

In response, President Roosevelt issued an executive order banning discriminatory hiring in the defense industry and Randolph and Rustin called off the march.

In the early 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) began planning a march to encourage the passing of the Civil Rights Act in Congress. President Kennedy called for civil rights legislation in March 1963. However, it had stalled in Congress.

Randolph and MLK decided to combine the marches into one, hence the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph

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 Rustin, a gay civil rights activist and advisor to MLK. He hired off-duty police officers as marshals, secured local bus captains to direct traffic, and scheduled the speakers.

On the day of the march, about 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Randolph led off a list of speakers that also included performances by Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, and Bob Dylan.

The final speaker of the day provided the most memorable moment and one of the great moments in American history.

MLK improvised much of this famous speech that has become known as his “I Have a Dream” address. The moving 16-minute speech used Biblical references and powerful rhetoric. MLK famously 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.”

The 250,000 people in the audience included several thousand reporters covering the event, making it effective in inspiring public support for the movement.

Martin Luther King and The March on Washington

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.

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