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Ten Things to Know about the March on Washington

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Submitted on August 28, 2012

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Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionThe 1963 March on Washington is perhaps the most iconic event from the modern civil rights movement. Almost a half-century ago, a quarter of a million Americans gathered to show solidarity for African Americans.  While images of the March on Washington are engrained in our collective conscience, few may realize that the event defined and crystallized the social, political and moral revolution. To commemorate the event, here are 10 things you may not know about the March on Washington.Photo Credit: Getty Images

  1. The official name of the march was “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”  The goal was to rally support for President John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Bill, and call attention to the economic challenges confronting the African-American community.
  2. A March on Washington Movement was first organized in 1941 by A. Phillip Randolph to address employment discrimination toward African Americans.  Although an actual march did not materialize, Randolph’s threat to protest on the National Mall during World War II forced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order #8802, which prevented discrimination in the national defense industries.
  3.  The March on Washington in 1963 was organized by Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King’s closest advisor, and a gay black man.
  4. W.E.B. Du Bois, co-founder of the NAACP, died on the morning of the march, in Accra, Ghana, at the age of 95.
  5. The March on Washington was held exactly eight years after the 1955 lynching of Emmitt Till.
  6. Daisy Bates was the only woman to actually address the crowd at the March on Washington. Only given 142 words, Bates stated that black women “pledge that we will join hands …  until we are free.”
  7. English: Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Mar...

    English: Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King jr. (ca. 1955) Mrs. Rosa Parks altered the negro progress in Montgomery, Alabama, 1955, by the bus boycott she unwillingly began. National Archives record ID: 306-PSD-65-1882 (Box 93). Source: Ebony Magazine Ελληνικά: Φωτογραφία της Rosa Parks με τον Dr. Martin Luther King jr. (περ. 1955.) Español: Fotografía de Rosa Parks con Martin Luther King jr. (aprox. 1955). Français : Photographie Rosa Parks (ca. 1955) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Two separate parades were held for male and female civil rights leaders.  The men marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. The women, who included Daisy Bates, Josephine Baker, an entertainer-turned-activist, and Rosa Parks, marched down Independence Avenue.

  8. The most stirring parts of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the march, were improvised. King was inspired by gospel legend Mahalia Jackson who shouted out from the crowd, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!”
  9. Following the march, male leaders met with President Kennedy, but no women were invited.  The group met to discuss the civil rights bill. It was the first time African-American leaders had been invited to the White House since 1901, when President Roosevelt dined with Booker T. Washington.
  10. King and the other senior civil rights leaders censored the speech of John Lewis, representing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. They felt he took too hard a line against the Kennedy Administration. Here are some of his omitted words: “In good conscience, we cannot support the administration’s civil-rights bill, for it is too little, and too late. There’s not one thing in the bill that will protect our people from police brutality.”

John Adams, PhD candidate, History Department, Rutgers University

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