The March on Washington
Most people learned about the march through their local civil rights and church groups. Vehicles known as "freedom buses" and "freedom trains" brought people from regions of the United States to this demonstration. Over 30 special trains, and 2,000 chartered buses were used. About 250,000 people came, with over 60,000 of them being white. There were several scattered "beatniks", bearded young men and young women with long hair, dressed in sneakers and dungarees. Some people were eating their bagged lunches, while others took in the breath taking event. Many people had signs that read such things as, "Pass the bill", or "We march for integration". No matter what race, it was the first time to the nation's capital for most. There were thousands of curious people in a foreign city.
Not only was the March speeches and marching, but there was some entertainment. Such musicians as Josh White, Odetta, Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and trio Peter, Paul, and Mary had scheduled performances.
The program was opened by A. Philip Randolph saying, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, "Fellow Americans, we are gathered here in the largest demonstration in the history of this nation. Let the nation and the world know the meaning of our numbers. We are not a pressure group, we are not an organization or a group of organizations, we are not a mob. We are the advance guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom."
Along with Randolph, at the Lincoln Memorial, was a group of U.S. senators and Representatives- about 75 to 100 in all. With their appearance came a loud ovation, and a steady chant, "Pass the bill-pass the bill-", referring to the President's civil rights legislation, which was yet to be passed by Congress.
WHAT WAS DEMANDED IN THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON (according to U.S. New & World Report- September 9, 1963)
1. Passage of "meaningful" civil-rights legislation at this session of Congress- no filibusting.
2. Immediate elimination of all racial segregation in public schools throughout the nation.
3. A big program of public works to provide jobs for all the nations's unemployed, including job training and a placement program.
4. A federal law prohibiting racial discrimination in hiring workmen- either public or private.
5. $2-an-hour minimum wage, across the board, nationwide.
6. Withholding of federal funds from programs in which discrimination exists.
7. Enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment, reducing congressional representation of states where citizens are disenfranchised.
8. A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include currently-excluded employment areas.
9. Authority for the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when any constitutional right is violated.
Later at the March
As the March continued, so did the crowd's size. Officials developed a deep fear for a violent attack if anything stirred the large mass of people. Fortunately, there was no violence, and more importantly, few people bothered to go to the nearby, well protected, White House.
Many of the speakers persuaded the people to step up their civil rights activities, and as one activist said, "stay in the streets of every city in the country until this fight is won." Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) explained, "You've got religion here today. Don't backslide tomorrow."
SNCC's John Lewis, one of the schedule speakers, had planned to give a fiery speech about denouncing the civil rights bill as too little too late, and that blacks would "take matters into our own hands and create a source of power outside of any national structure... we will march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did, leaving a scorched earth with our nonviolence." After being persuaded to downplay his speech by Martin Luther King Jr., and Randolph, his speech was rewritten by himself and fellow SNCC leaders James Forman and Courtland Cox.
Even with modifications, Lewis' speech was the most hard-hitting of the day, "By the force of our demands, our determination and our numbers, he said, "we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces, and put them back together in the image of God and Democracy." He went on to say that the SNCC supported the civil rights bill "with reservations"
Then Martin Luther King Jr., stood to speak. King, the most popular of all the civil rights leaders, delivered a speech that would be heard on television stations across the land from 1963 to present. It was a speech of hope and determination, epitomizing the day's message of racial harmony, love, and a belief that blacks and whites could live together in peace. Known as the "I have a dream" speech, it is currently considered one of the greatest and most influential speeches ever.
The event was a resounding success, extensively covered by the media. There were no major disturbances. The 1,000+ military soldiers were in no way necessary. Many Americans witnessed for the first time black people and whites united, marching and celebrating side by side.