August 28, 1963 was a warm summer day. Hot, but not too humid. It was the day that the civil rights organizers brought the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to Washington, DC. People came by chartered bus, chartered trains and carpools. City officials expected maybe 100,000 participants but the final total was around a quarter of a million. The plan originally called for a focus on economic demands but the focus shifted. The U.S. Congress was considering a bill for comprehensive civil rights barring segregation that JFK had put before Congress on June 11. The organizers wanted to press for equal rights and the end of discrimination in housing, jobs and schools. The March was nonviolent and peaceful involving about a quarter of a million people (DC officials had expected about 100,000). It showed the interracial character of the movement. It helped transform the struggle from a southern to a national movement.
But what remains in our memory is the stirring speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. Standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, honoring the man who had promulgated the Emancipation Proclamation 100 years earlier, King urged action in what has become known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. The speech has been called one of the greatest in American history. It was witnessed not only by the crowds in DC but also by television audience nationwide.
In his New York Times column James Reston (August 29, 1963) asserted that while the placards read “now”, these were merely the opening demands of the movement. It was King who moved the crowd with his repeated cry of “I have a dream.” And “each time the dream was a promise of out of our ancient articles of faith: phrases from the Constitution, lines from the great anthem of the nation, guarantees from the Bill of Rights, all ending with a vision that they might one day all come true. ”
If this intrigues you, check out the display on our first floor remembering Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle for Civil Rights.
- posted by Brenda, Reference Services