Fifty years ago this month, on 28 August 1963, over 200,000 demonstrators gathered at the National Mall for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Drawing inspiration from a march planned in 1941 by A. Philip Randolph and the May 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, the organizers of the March on Washington sought to realize the goals of the earlier marches and advocate for social and economic justice.
The list of sponsoring organizations included a broad array of civil rights, religious, and labor groups. In advance of the march, the leaders notified President Kennedy of their intentions and released a list of specific objectives including a comprehensive civil rights bill, advancements in voter rights, and school desegregation, among others.
Following a list of notable speakers, including Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins, and John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr. capped the day's speeches with his "I Have a Dream Speech." King and his closest advisors, including Clarence Jones, stayed up most of the previous night working on the speech. The finished draft, titled "Normalcy - Never Again," did not contain reference to King's "dream," but upon seeing the ethusiastic reaction of the crowd, King departed from the prepared script. Many of his recent speeches had focused on the idea of "making the American Dream a reality," and he worked the theme into his delivery of the speech to great effect.
Following the march, the organizers met with President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson to discuss the need for federal civil rights legislation.
To read more about the March on Washington, visit the King Online Encyclopedia. To read more about King's I Have a Dream speech, click here.