King's legacy: Remembering the March on Washington Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963. At left, a statue of King was dedicated last year (  AP photos)
King's legacy: Remembering the March on Washington
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Planning began in the spring of 1963. Leaders from the major United States civil rights organizations proposed a massive nonviolent demonstration for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C. It would be the largest the capital had ever seen. They called it the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" and set a date, August 28, 1963, for the event.

"The idea of a major demonstration in Washington, in the nations capital, that brought together all of the major civil rights organizations would be a statement very different from what was happening around the country," says Harry Rubenstein. Rubenstein was curator of political history at the Smithsonians National Museum of American History. No protests that large had ever taken place in the U.S. before.

That summer day, a crowd of at least 250,000 gathered at the Washington Monument. It was the largest gathering of its kind in the nations capital. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and other musicians performed for the growing crowd. Ken Howard, a D.C. student at Howard University, took the bus downtown to join the massive gathering. "The crowd was just enormous," he said in an interview with Smithsonian magazine. "Kind of like the feeling you get when a thunderstorm is coming and you know it is going to really happen. There was an expectation and excitement that this march finally would make a difference."

The logistical campaign behind the scenes was unprecedented in American activism. Volunteers prepared 80,000 50-cent boxed lunches (consisting of a cheese sandwich, a slice of poundcake and an apple). More than 2,200 chartered buses, 40 special trains, 22 first-aid stations, eight 2,500-gallon water-storage tank trucks and 21 portable water fountains were brought in for the March.

Participants traveled from across the country-young and old, black and white, celebrities and ordinary citizens. These included present-day civil rights leaders such as John Lewis, Julian Bond, Harry Belafonte, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Andrew Young.

The march participants proudly picketed down Washington, DCs Independence and Constitution Avenues to the Lincoln Memorial. The potent symbolism of a demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial was timed to coincide with the centenary of the Emancipation Proclamation and to follow President John F. Kennedys announcement in June that he would submit a civil rights bill to Congress. It transfixed the nation.

Fourteen speakers, representing civil rights organizations, labor unions and religions, took to the podium. The messages built one upon another in a powerful crescendo. Then 34-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now famous "I Have a Dream" speech. It catapulted King into a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement and as one of the nations most famous orators.

After the program, the marchers proceeded to the White House. There they met with President Kennedy and entreated him to improve the civil rights legislation he was submitting to Congress.

The March on Washington proved to be a strong catalyst in passing the Civil Rights bills in law. On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act which legally banned employment discrimination and segregation in public facilities. He signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. "Its difficult for someone these days," says Howard, "to understand what it was like, to suddenly have a ray of light in the dark. Thats really what it was like."

Critical thinking challenge: Why do you think the March on Washington had such an impact on people?

Assigned 46 times


COMMENTS (11)
  • MadisonK9
    1/29/2015 - 12:56 p.m.

    It made people see just how many others cared about equal rights for everyone despite race or color. And how those people were dedicated to making a change

  • SidnieY38
    1/29/2015 - 12:58 p.m.

    I think the March on Washington had such a big impact on people because it showed that all people are equal. It also suggested that black people be able to do the same things as white people. Dr. King wanted the message to get across the whole world that it doesn't matter what color skin you have, black or white, we are all people and should be treated equally. It encouraged people to be as nice to the black people as you are to the white because imagine if you were black, you wouldn't want to be treated the way black people were.

  • JocelynC5
    1/29/2015 - 01:02 p.m.

    The March on Washington had such an impact on the people because these people were treated very badly for a long time. People got to change that. They also changed history. They help many peoples lives

  • LydiaS20
    1/29/2015 - 01:03 p.m.

    I think the March on Washington had such an impact on people because it brought together all of the major civil rights organizations and it would be a statement very different from what was happening around the country. This was said by Harry Rubenstein. The March on Washington was also the largest gathering. Both white and black people came. I think Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech made a very big impact on people as well. He talked about how blacks and whites should have equal rights. This made an impact and made people think, and years later Martin Luther King Jr. changed things. Today, blacks and whites share most equal rights.

  • AmariW76
    1/29/2015 - 01:06 p.m.

    The March on Washington had such an impact on people. It was such an impact because some people now treat blacks equally. Also now blacks can do things they could never do before like get better jobs. Lastly women can do other things besides clean and cook all day and actually do work and other things they couldn't do before.

  • KathrynB13
    1/29/2015 - 01:07 p.m.

    I think that there are many possible correct responses for this question. I however think that the March on Washington had such an impact on people because a lot of people came. Black, whites, every body came. Even celebrities and regular citizens came. It meant a lot to many people and that's why they came.

  • JoycellaR83
    1/29/2015 - 01:08 p.m.

    I think the March on Washington really had an impact because it was something that gave them hope. Their voices were being heard, and even though the struggle didn't end there, it sent a message. It showed that Dr. King would not back down, and would continue to work to create peace and civil rights. Overall it was just really inspirational to those who felt like they did not have any rights, and to those today who feel like that.

  • AutumnK13
    1/29/2015 - 01:09 p.m.

    After the March on Washington people saw how many people cared about having civil rights that his i had a . People also started to realize that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right about being equal after his speech. I feel his " I Had a Dream" speech had definately convinced them his idea was right too. Without this "March on Washington" we still today might not have civil rights between races and genders.

  • ColbyB34
    1/29/2015 - 01:09 p.m.

    I think the March on Washington had a huge impact because of these reasons. First, it impacted how we as people, look upon other people today. It also impacted how we treat black people. Last, it impacted how we as whites look at black people.

  • BenjaminN56
    1/29/2015 - 01:09 p.m.

    I think that the ''March on Washington'' had such an effect because of the amount of people and the meaning behind it. I think it also had such an effect because there weren't just black people but white people too. There was also celebrities and civil rights leaders.

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