March On Washington - 1963

Find out all about the great mass march on the Washington Capital that saw the world mesmerized by the power of Martin Luther King's oratory.

In 1942 respected Black leader A. Philip Randolph envisioned a great March on the Capital in Washington to force the powers that be to face up to the problems confronting it's millions of Black citizens. The timing, however, was not right for such a mass display. 21 years later, however, the times had changed. A powerful leader and public speaker had emerged as the voice of the disenfranchised black populace. This man, Martin Luther King, Junior had, in August of 1963 just emerged from a campaign of non-violent resistance in what was perhaps the most segregated city in all of America - Birmingham, Alabama. The black masses were well and truly awoken from the inertia that had gripped them for a century. By mid 1963 the time had arrived for a Great March on the Capital.

The word went through out the South by way of the Church pulpits and Civil rights meetings. Freedom busses and trains were organised to transport people to Washington. In all, more than 30 chartered trains and over 2,000 busses would be utilised to bring the people to the Capital. By these means, along with private transport , more than 250,000 people would flock to Washington D.C. on the 28th of August, 1963. Over 60,000 of these people were white. Most of them had never been to Washington before.

Curiously they waited, black man and white man shoulder to shoulder, to see how the events would unfold. The program was opened by A.Philp Randolph. Standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial , he set the tone of the day by addressing those gathered before him as "˜ the advance guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom.' Randolph went on to enunciate the 7 things demanded by the Marchers. They were as follows:



(1) Passage of meaningful civil rights legislation

(2) An immediate end to all school segregation

(3) Protection for all civil rights protestors against police brutality

(4) A major public works program for all unemployed

(5) A federal law prohibiting racial discrimination in the workplace

(6) A $2 minimum wage

(7) Self Government for the District of Columbia

As the speeches continued, the crowds swelled even more. City officials became fearful of violence. But this was a peaceful congregation. Many of the speakers encouraged the black people present to step up their civil rights protests. SNCC leader John Lewis' speech, though vastly watered down, was still the most volatile. He prophesied that with their superior strength of numbers the black people would "˜splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces, and put them back together in the image of God and Democracy.'

After Lewis, Martin Luther King stepped up to the podium. The speech he gave would be televised around the world. It would be taught to generations of School children, repeated ad naseum and logged into the history books as quite possibly the greatest speech of modern times. The "I have a dream" speech was full of hope, of determination and of purpose. It brought the quarter of a million people who heard it live to a fever pitch of excitement.

King's speech was a fitting climax to a hugely successful event. Immediately following the march the top 10 speakers had a meeting with President Kennedy. They asked for additions to be made to the proposed Civil Rights Bill. Kennedy was conciliatory but made no promises.

News of the March went around the world with many papers breaking their policy of not featuring Blacks on the front page. Martin Luther King, Jr had showed that a black man could be articulate, intelligent and mentally persuasive. The old order in the South had suffered a blow from which it would never recover.

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