Jobs and Freedom: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the March on Washington


Image by Warren K. Leffler, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the March of Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. A quarter of a million (250,000!!) people showed up in the time before cell phones, before email, before GPS directions, and they made their voices heard.

The march was a call for civil and economic rights for African Americans, and is credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Recent news proves that these issues are still hugely important today. Since this isn’t my story to tell, some links:

  • John Lewis is the sole surviving speaker from the August 1963 march. He was 23 at the time. Read about his work here, and his reflections on the day here: “I’m not tired. I’m not weary. I’m not prepared to sit down and give up. I am ready to fight and continue to fight, and you must fight.”
  • NPR is doing a wonderful job live-tweeting as if it were 1963 at the @todayin1963 twitter feed@todayin1963March manual says folks should bring two lunches, avoid spoiled food; first-aid units, toilets, cots and blankets will be provided.
  • I first read this article featuring oral histories from marchers and organizers in Smithsonian Magazine about a month ago. It definitely made me misty on the subway.

“We thought we might get 75,000 people showing up on August 28. When we saw this unbelievable crowd coming out of Union Station, we knew it was going to be more than 75,000. . . . What we did, the ten of us, was grab each other’s arms, made a line across the sea of marchers. People literally pushed us, carried us all the way, until we reached the Washington Monument and then we walked on to the Lincoln Memorial.” -John Lewis

  • The Library of Congress has photographs from the day available for viewing in its online catalog.
  • This essay by Tim Carmody about the day and our collective memory of it is excellent. “We’ve lost so much. We’ve forgotten so much. We’ve asked so few to stand in for so many. We’re doing it still.”
  • This article from the Washington Post examines the King estate’s careful guarding of the “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • And with the NYTimes Time Machine, you can read the Times from the morning after: August 29, 1963.

There are many, many other things happening around the web and, of course, in Washinton, D.C. Today’s a day for remembering all that’s been done and organizing for all that’s left to do. Because, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his famous speech, “we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.