• The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (usually shortened to the “March on Washington”) took place on August 28, 1963. More than 250,000 people from all over the country gathered on the National Mall, between the Washington and Lincoln Memorials, to demand civil rights and economic equality for all Americans.
     
    The peaceful rally is most remembered for its closing speech, delivered by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.— “I Have a Dream.” The speech remains powerful and eloquent, but was only part of the March on Washington, which itself was a part of the larger civil rights movement.
     
    To learn more about the March on Washington and dispel some popular myths about the event, read the Fast Facts.
     
    Instructional Ideas
     
    Consult Common Core ELA-Literacy Writing standard 6.7: Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.
    Consult California History-Social Science standard 11.10: Examine the roles of civil rights advocates (e.g., A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, James Farmer, Rosa Parks), including the significance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “I Have a Dream” speech.
    • Discuss leading participants of the March on Washington, suggesting march participants such as Bayard Ruskin or Harry Belafonte, or members of the “Big Six” as topics for biographical book reports. Members of the Big Six are more fully addressed in question one in the Questions tab.
     
    Consult National Geography Standard 17.1: A historical event is influenced by the geographic context (the human and physical characteristics of places and environments) in which it occurred.
    • Discuss where the March on Washington took place. The significance of the Lincoln Memorial is more fully addressed in question two in the Questions tab.
     
    Consult California History-Social Science Standard 11.11: Students analyze the major social problems and domestic policy issues in contemporary American society. 
    Consult California History-Social Science Standard 12.3, parts 1-2: 1. Explain how civil society provides opportunities for individuals to associate for social, cultural, religious, economic, and political purposes. 2. Explain how civil society makes it possible for people, individually or in association with others, to bring their influence to bear on government in ways other than voting and elections.
    • Discuss the First Amendment, and how it guarantees the freedom of assembly and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. 
      • Discuss what grievances—real-world issues—the March on Washington was meant to confront, and how these issues persist today. The two major issues (civil and economic rights) are addressed in question three in the Questions tab.
        • Students may want to consider how different marginalized groups work to assert their civil and economic rights: the poor, Native Americans, women, Latinos, the LGBT community, the disabled, etc.
    • Discuss the concept of public space. Students may want to review the significance of the Lincoln Memorial explored in question two.
      • Identify some public spaces in your community. Examples of public spaces and how they are used are listed in question four of the Questions tab.
    1. The March on Washington was one of the few instances where the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement worked together on a specific project. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), is the most famous of the Big Six. Can you name any of the others?

      A. Philip Randolph was president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the most powerful African American force in organized labor. Randolph planned the March on Washington with Bayard Rustin, and delivered its opening and closing remarks.


      James Farmer founded the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and organized the 1961 Freedom Riders campaign, which led to the desegregation of interstate buses. Farmer was scheduled to speak at the March on Washington, but could not attend. He had just been arrested in Plaquemine, Louisiana, for “disturbing the peace” while organizing civil rights protests, and was still in jail.


      John Lewis was the youngest member of the Big Six, and president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). At the March on Washington, Lewis cut part of his speech after other leaders thought it was too controversial and critical of the Kennedy administration.


      Roy Wilkins was the executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Wilkins saw the march as a show of support for the civil rights bill then being debated in Congress.


      Whitney Young was the executive director of the National Urban League. Young tried to keep the focus of the march on civil, not economic, rights.

    2. The speeches at the March on Washington took place at the Lincoln Memorial. Why do you think march leaders chose this location?

      President Abraham Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator,” was widely credited with ending slavery in the United States. In fact, the march took place during the centennial year of the Emancipation Proclamation, issued in January 1863.


      Aside from its historic significance, the Lincoln Memorial is an easily accessed public space, sitting at the west end of the National Mall. The Mall is a huge, grassy area lined by museums and government buildings. The Capitol, where Congress meets, anchors the east end of the Mall. The Lincoln Memorial itself stands on a fairly steep series of steps, allowing speakers and performers to look out over the expanse of the Mall.


      In 1939, the Lincoln Memorial had been the site of the largest gathering on the National Mall prior to the March on Washington—a free concert by operatic soprano Marian Anderson. Anderson’s concert, organized after a nearby venue refused to host an integrated audience, drew about 75,000 people.

    3. Gatherings like the March on Washington are guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”


      Consider the First Amendment when answering the next two questions, about the right to petition the government and the right to peaceably assemble (freedom of assembly).


      Right to petition the government: “We will not stop [protesting] until the dogs stop biting us in the South and the rats stop biting us in the North.” So wrote James Farmer, founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), in his speech prepared for the March on Washington. (Floyd McKissick, who succeeded Farmer at CORE, actually delivered the speech, as Farmer was in jail for organizing civil-rights protests in Louisiana.) What grievances do you think Farmer was talking about by “dogs in the South” and “rats in the North”?

      Farmer’s words brilliantly address the two main grievances of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: economic equality (jobs) and civil rights (freedom).

      • Dogs in the South: Farmer was alluding to police brutality, specifically the use of police dogs, to violently discourage civil-rights demonstrations in the South.
      • Rats in the North: Farmer was alluding to unequal access to jobs and housing in urban areas such as New York, Chicago, and Boston. Unfairly segregated, many African Americans were forced to live in homes that did not have adequate access to health, safety, and sanitation standards that would eliminate vermin such as rats.
    4. Freedom of assembly: Freedom of assembly is often associated with the concept of public space. Are there public spaces where members of your community are able to peaceably assemble? What are some reasons people may gather in a public space?

      Answers will vary! Public spaces are generally defined as places that are open to people without a fee or authorization. Public parks, beaches, and city squares or plazas are some familiar public spaces.


      People may gather in public spaces for a wide variety of reasons: political or social protest (as the March on Washington), artistic opportunities such as concerts, or recreational opportunities, including athletics or historical re-enactments.

    • Myth: Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the March on Washington. 
      The march was planned and organized by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, experienced and exemplary leaders in the civil rights community. 
      • Randolph was president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first major labor organization led by African Americans. He was also vice-president of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions (including the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) in the U.S. 
      • Rustin was perhaps one of the most skilled civil rights activists at the march. During World War II, he worked to protect the property of Japanese Americans detained in internment camps and successfully met with President Roosevelt to help desegregate the armed services. Rustin was also the chief adviser to King on the theories and practices of non-violent protest.
    • Myth: The March on Washington was a march to Washington. 
      The civil rights movement is often associated with marches, most notably the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches in Alabama. However, the March on Washington was organized as an enormous meeting—not a journey—with people gathering in the Washington, D.C., area from all over the country. Bayard Rustin expertly managed the march’s complex logistics—involving thousands of buses, trains, planes, and cars.
    • Myth: All participants in the March on Washington were African Americans from the South.
      An overwhelming number of participants in the March on Washington were African American men and women—unofficial estimates put the number as high as 80 percent. Although many arrived from the South, including nearby Virginia, most probably came from urban areas such as New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. (On the morning of August 28, one radio station reported buses were pouring in from Baltimore at a rate of 100 per hour.) Thousands of white, Asian, Latino, and Native American marchers also participated.
    • Myth: The March on Washington was apolitical.
      The March on Washington had specific, entirely political goals. Marchers sought legal guarantees of civil, economic, and voting rights. Many marchers supported a civil rights bill that had been introduced (but not yet passed) by the House of Representatives just months earlier. Other marchers thought this bill was not strong enough, and wanted to lobby Congress to ensure African Americans had fair access to jobs, public facilities, police protection, housing, and voting rights. In fact, leaders of the march were actually late for its start because they were meeting with members of Congress. 
    • Myth: The March on Washington united the civil rights community.
      The March on Washington was remarkable for bringing together very disparate elements of the civil rights movement, but many other civil rights activists did not support the march at all. The most famous of these dissenters was probably Malcolm X, a leader in the Nation of Islam, who derided the March on Washington as a “Farce on Washington.” Malcolm X and other civil rights leaders thought the placid tone and participation of non-African Americans reduced the impact of the event. Other critics of the march noted the absence of any female speakers at the event.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    civil rights Plural Noun

    set of fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all individuals, such as participation in the political system, ability to own property, and due process and equal protection under the law.

    civil rights movement Noun

    (~1954-1968) process to establish equal rights for all people in the United States, focusing on the rights of African Americans.

    dispel Verb

    to get rid of or cause to disappear.

    economic Adjective

    having to do with money.

    eloquent Adjective

    well-spoken and expressive.

    First Amendment Noun

    (1791) update to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting government from interfering with freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government.

    March on Washington Noun

    (March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom) demonstration supporting economic and civil rights for all Americans, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963, and concluding with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

    National Mall Noun

    national park composed largely of grassy lawns, stretching roughly between the U.S. Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Tell us what you think