More than 250,000 converged on the mall in front of The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963 in The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, to protest economic and social inequalities in America.
The event, headed by A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and organized by Bayard Rustin, was more than 20 years in the making. Randolph began planning the march as early as 1941, when he planned a march to protest the exclusion of blacks from World War II defense jobs and the New Deal programs by Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR demanded that Randolph call off the march. When he refused, FDR capitulated to Randolph’s demands by signing Executive Order 8802, prohibiting employment discrimination in the defense industries.
Having achieved his objective, Randolph called off his planned march. Randolph deployed the threat of a march again in June of 1963. President John F. Kennedy tried to persuade him to cancel. But this time, Randolph went through with the march and on August 28, 1963, history was made.
Randolph led off the day with a promise: “We here today are only the first wave. When we leave, it will be to carry the civil rights revolution home with us into every nook and cranny of the land, and we shall return again and again to Washington in ever growing numbers until total freedom is ours.”
Other speakers included Rustin, NAACP president Roy Wilkins, John Lewis of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Actors/Activists Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, with musical performances by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson, who helped fund the works of the movement.
But the big star of the day was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech.