On August 28, 1963, The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was held in Washington D.C. More than 250,000 demonstrators participated in the event, which was considered the largest public protest in American history. Speakers at the event included Martin Luther King Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Congressman John Lewis (then a college student and member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee); Whitney Young of the Urban League; Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP; and various religious and civic organizations. The March on Washington is credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Throughout the early 1960's, talks began amongst civil rights leaders for a large protest that would fight against discrimination. They hoped such a demonstration would bring the need for civil rights for all Americans to the forefront of the nation, placing pressure on lawmakers to change discriminatory laws.
Following the protests in Birmingham, President John F. Kennedy spoke out against racial injustice in the United States. Kennedy's remarks coupled by the publicity of the events in Birmingham, prompted Asa Philip Randolph to organize a march in Washington D.C.
Randolph rallied the largest African-American organizations to help with the march and asked the Kennedy administration for their support as well. However, all groups differed on the purpose of the march.
- Leaders of SNCC and CORE wanted to use the march as an opportunity to voice their displeasure with the Kennedy administration--feeling the government had not supported the grassroots organizing in the South. As a result, they wanted to place additional pressure on the government to change federal laws that supported racial injustice.
- Randolph and the Negro American Labor Council (NACL) wanted to focus on poverty in African-American communities.
- President Kennedy believed that a large demonstration would hurt his chances of having a civil rights bill passed. Kennedy collaborated with NAACP and NUL leaders to ensure that the objective of the march was to support the passage of civil rights legislation.
- Agreeing with Kennedy's wishes, Wilkins and Young worked tirelessly to make sure that speakers at the event would respect the Kennedy administration and support civil rights bills. As a result, the original focus of the march--to change poverty in America--was buried.
- Ella Baker, who had angered leaders in SCLC, was not invited to speak at the event.
The march began later than its scheduled time because leaders were meeting with members of congress. As a result, participants began walking from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. At the memorial, a planned program, which included musicians and speakers from various religious and civic organizations began.
Performers such as folk singers Bob Dylan, Joan Baez as well as Peter Paul and Mary; gospel singer Mahalia Jackson; and, opera singer, Marian Anderson sang to protestors.
Leaders of the march's sponsoring organizations spoke to the crowd. John Lewis , then a college student and member of SNCC, was the youngest to speak at the March on Washington. Lewis' speech--which had been heavily revised at the behest of Wilkins and Young--criticized the Kennedy Administration for its inability to protect African-Americans and civil rights workers in the south.Although women were not originally invited to speak at the event, Daisy Bates and Josephine Baker were asked to address the crowd during the march. And King delivered his famous, "I Have A Dream Speech" during the March on Washington."
The March on Washington received a great deal of media coverage. As a result, the importance of civil rights and an end to racial injustice received extensive national and international exposure. Speakers at the event were given the opportunity to offer news organizations commentary after addressing the crowd.