Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the date when a quarter of a million Americans from across the United States converged upon Washington, D.C. for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Plans for this event began in 1962 when A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, suggested the idea of a mass gathering on Washington, D.C. to draw attention to the economic plight of the county’s African American population. The nation’s leading civil rights organizations sought this opportunity to encourage Congress to pass civil rights legislation under its consideration, and persuaded President John F. Kennedy to endorse the demonstration.
As plans progressed, Randolph charged noted civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin, with the arduous task of coordinating and directing the logistics for the march. Rustin and his crew of volunteers worked around the clock to make necessary arrangements as word of the upcoming march spread throughout the country, and thousands of anxious supporters prepared to make their descent on the nation’s capitol. On August 28, 1963, a crowd of 250,000 people, including nearly 450 members of Congress, gathered at Lincoln Memorial to listen to the day’s scheduled performances and speeches. Randolph along with Roy Wilkins, John Lewis and others delivered riveting speeches before Martin Luther King took his place at the podium and delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Even though the March on Washington succeeded in both dramatizing and politicizing the need to secure federal legislation banning segregation and racial discrimination, it would be another year before civil rights legislation was signed by president Lyndon B. Johnson in July 1964 and became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Civil Rights Digital Library contains links to numerous collections and resources that feature the March on Washington; these are available at http://crdl.usg.edu/events/march_on_washington/