"It will be one of our greatest American experiences-creative, constructive, inspirational," predicted Randolph. He was the lead organizer of what became one of the largest peaceful actions, of the civil rights movement: the 1963 March on Washington.
Two decades later, the dream resurfaced. As Barbara Andrews, the curator at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis puts it: "It was an effort whose time had come." The economic gap between blacks and whites had widened. Civil rights leaders decided to show the nation that their cause included more than just the right to sit, on a bus. There were many economic and political rights involved, such as equal access to education, jobs, and decent housing. There was a need to make these issues clear to the American public, but to do so without any violence or bloodshed.
Therefore, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, was formed. Randolph became the leader of this massive demonstration of economic justice. By this time, the 1960s, it was not unheard of for large protests to happen. Plus, the idea of non-violent direct action had become associated with the Civil Rights Movement. Unlike FDR, President John F. Kennedy did not do anything to stop the march.
One of the main objectives of the march was to pressure Congress into passing pending civil rights legislation. The event was based on a new form of lobbying , - instead of going to the Capitol or the White House, the organizers invited the Congressmen to come to them. Of course, not all Congressmen were very receptive. Senator Olin Johnston from South Carolina believed that the march would amount to a mob scene and would be dominated by criminals and crackpots. , He sent a telegram in response to his invitation, stating, "I positively will not attend… You certainly will have no influence on any member of Congress, including myself."
Senator Johnston may not have been there, but believe me there was no lack of people. The marchers hit D.C. by storm, arriving in the morning and assembling at the Washington Monument. They had signs with slogans, such as "We demand decent housing NOW!" and "We march for jobs for all NOW!" At noon, they marched to the Lincoln Memorial for a session of singing, speeches and prayers.
The most famous words of that day came from Martin Luther King Jr. His inspirational "I Have a Dream" , speech captured the ears and the hearts of the American people. Click here to see the full text of the speech.
Looking back, with all of these amazing speeches and leaders involved, was the day an overwhelming success,? There were no instant results, but as Barbara explains, "so often we look for something to happen immediately, for some direct impact on the government, but the March was successful in raising an awareness of issues, relevant to African-Americans and many different peoples."
The March was a day of solidarity. It was an opportunity to mobilize support from the American public, and to allow ordinary men and women to participate in an extraordinary historical moment.
When I went to the Lincoln Memorial, it was a quiet and tranquil scene. Two women jogged by. An elderly couple sat on a bench nearby enjoying the sunny day. The geese waded in the reflecting pool. This was the extent of the action in the area. How incredible to think of the place buzzing with energy, and packed with people who had come from far and wide with a common vision of freedom. I pictured all of the major civil rights leaders of the time speaking in a unified voice that bellowed across the crowd.
I was not part of the March on Washington. I was not even alive then. I am going to guess that most of you weren't either. Barbara explains that even though she was alive, she was young and unaware, of all the issues going on during that time. So how can we become part of the dream? For Barbara, taking history classes and becoming friends with people from all different backgrounds are what first got her interested in civil rights and in such events as the March.
The idea of marching to Washington has continued on, especially in recent years. There was the Million Man March, the Million Family March, and the Millennium March on Washington for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights.
And people keep on marching.
Remember, the dream was equal rights and justice for all, not some. We owe it to the 250,000 marchers, we owe it to Philip Randolph and Dr. King…and we owe it to ourselves, to make this dream come true.
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Irene - Organizing the revolution and the future