THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR JOBS AND FREEDOM
AUGUST 28, 1963



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It’s August of 1963, and the Civil Rights movement is in full force. Nationwide outrage has been sparked by media coverage of police actions in Birmingham, Alabama, where attack dogs and fire hoses were turned against protestors, many of whom were in their early teens or younger. Martin Luther King, Jr., was arrested and jailed during these protests, and he wrote his “Letter From Birmingham City Jail," which advocates civil disobedience against unjust laws. Dozens of additional demonstrations have taken place across the country, from California to New York. The President, John F. Kennedy, has discussed pushing for a Civil Rights Act in Congress, but progress has stalled over the summer. Several civil rights organizations, all of which generally have different approaches and different agendas, have organized a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which may become the biggest mass protest in history.

The "Big Six" organizers are James Farmer, of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); John Lewis, of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); A. Philip Randolph, of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Roy Wilkins, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and Whitney Young, Jr., of the National Urban League.

The stated demands of the march were the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; a major public-works program to provide jobs; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2 an hour minimum wage; and self-government for the District of Columbia, which hasa black majority.

No everyone is in favor of the march. President Kennedy originally discouraged the march, for fear that it might make the legislature vote against civil rights laws in reaction to a perceived threat. Once it became clear that the march would go on, however, he decided to support it. While various labor unions supported the march, the AFL-CIO remained neutral. White supremacist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, are obviously not in favor of any event supporting racial equality. Also, some African American activists feel the march, will present an inaccurate, sanitized pageant of racial harmony; Malcolm X is calling it the "Farce on Washington," and members of the Nation of Islam who attend will face a temporary suspension.

Nobody is sure how many people will turn up for the demonstration in Washington, D.C. and it’s not easy to get there. People are coming by car, train, and foot, traveling from all parts of the country. Some coming from the South have been harassed and threatened. An estimated quarter of a million people—about a quarter of whom were white—will march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, in both a protest and a communal celebration. Even though many D.C. residents fear their safety, the heavy police presence won’t be unnecessary, as the march will be noted for its civility and peacefulness. The march will be extensively covered by the media, with live international television coverage.
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The event will include musical performances, actors and actresses, and speeches from all of the "Big Six" civil-rights leaders (James Farmer, who was imprisoned in Louisiana at the time, will have his speech read by Floyd McKissick). Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish religious leaders will play a role, as will labor leader Walter Reuther. The one female speaker will be Josephine Baker, who ill introduce several "Negro Women Fighters for Freedom," including Rosa Parks.

John Lewis of SNCC is planning to give a speech critical of the President, as he feel’s Kennedy's civil rights bill is "too little, too late," and wonders "which side is the federal government on?" He also wants to declare that his groups will march "through the Heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did" and "burn Jim Crow to the ground–nonviolently." However, he has agreed to tone down the more inflammatory portions of his speech, but even his revised version will be the most controversial of the day.

The final speech will be given by King, and he will certainly use the national and international stage to discuss the plight of the movement and the need for justice. He recently gave a speech in Detroit referring to a “dream” of his … maybe he will refer to it again …

You will watch and listen to King’s speech in class Monday. As you do, you will put the excerpts into your own words with your partner(s). Once you have finished, you will read about the impact of the March, and also complete the final questions about Martin Luther King, Jr.