Photograph of the crowds at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and FreedomToday we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. We’ve included some links to more resources below.

This event is seared into Americans’ collective memory and has permeated even international consciousness. Those four words — “I have a dream…” — immediately evoke the crowds on the National Mall and images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., standing at a podium in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

While the 1963 event might be the most famous of the marches on Washington, it was not the only one. Many protests, large and small, have descended on D.C. (see Wikipedia’s list for a taste). One of the leaders of the march, A. Phillip Randolph, had led the “March on Washington Movement” twenty years before, which sought to combat racial discrimination in America during the Second World War.

So what makes this one stand out? Probably a number of factors: the sheer numbers of people involved, the use of television and sound recording which was rapidly distributed in the media, the status of the leaders, the participation of celebrities and politicians, the memorable oratory, and the fact that the issues at hand touched most Americans to great extent.

We have neither the space nor the expertise to expound on all of the issues here, but suffice it to say that the march we remember for Dr. King’s emotional speech and now-iconic photos was — is — about so much more, and benefited from the participation, leadership, and attention of many.

Learn more about the U.S. civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s:

Free courses:
HIST212, Unit 8: “The Civil Rights Movement” [enroll]
POLSC432, Unit 6: “Civil Rights: The Struggle for Racial Equality” [enroll]

The Saylor Foundation’s “The Roots of the Modern Civil Rights Movement” (YouTube)
The Saylor Foundation’s “The Civil Rights Movement: Integration and Segregation” (YouTube)
Wikipedia’s “March on Washington

Image public domain. Source.