Sunday, February 5, 2012

Black History Month: THE 1963 MARCH ON WASHINGTON

The 1963 March on Washington attracted an estimated 250,000 people for a peaceful demonstration to promote Civil Rights and economic equality for African Americans. Participants walked down Constitution and Independence avenues, then - 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed - gathered before the Lincoln Monument for speeches, songs, and prayer. Televised live to an audience of millions, the march provided dramatic moments, most memorably the Rev Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
Far larger than previous demonstrations for any cause, the march had an obvious impact, both on the passage of civil rights legislation and on nationwide public opinion. It proved the power of mass appeal and inspired imitators in the antiwar, feminist, and environmental movements. But the March on Washington in 1963 was more complex than the iconic images most Americans remember it for. As the high point of the Civil Rights Movement, the march - and the integrationist, nonviolent, liberal form of protest it stood for - was followed by more radical, militant, and race-conscious approaches.

It was A. Philip Randolph who first conceived of a march on Washington. In 1941 his threat to assemble 100,000 African Americans in the capital helped convince President Franklin D. Roosevelt to sign an executive order banning discrimination in the defense industries and creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee. More than 20 years later, Randolph revived his idea. His primary interest, as always, was jobs - African Americans were disproportionately unemployed and underpaid. In a December 1962 meeting, Randolph and Rustin began planning the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

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