The Historical Legacy of the March on Washington

for Jobs and Freedom

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In 1963, civil rights leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin began plans for a march on Washington to protest segregation, the lack of voting rights, and unemployment among African Americans. Randolph and Rustin enlisted the support of all the major civil rights organizations, and the march—on August 28— was a resounding success.

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The March on Washington sought to pressure Congress to pass civil rights legislation. Many public officials feared that the march would result in violence and proposed a bill in Congress to prevent it. Despite predictions of trouble, an interracial crowd of 250,000 gathered and listened to speakers without any violence.

Placard from March on Washington

Placard from March on Washington

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Samuel Y. Edgerton

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Marching on the Mall

In hindsight, the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom has taken on mythic proportions. Its importance as a turning point in the civil rights movement, a moment when the American public came to see race relations as a national, not a Southern issue, is taken for granted.
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Why We March

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Visualize nearly 60 years of community activism and protest movements for racial and social justice in the United States through photography from the Museum's permanent collection. Featuring a range of iconic images from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom through the Women's March in 2017, and the Black Lives Matter movement, "Why We March" illustrates how marching is a sign of solidarity, reflecting a community whose voices and bodies come together to demand recognition and the promises of democracy. This video was produced through the generous support of Accenture.

We’re going to march. We’re going to walk together. We’re going to stand together. We’re going to sing together. We’re going to stay together. We’re going to moan together. We’re going to groan together and after a while, we will have freedom, freedom, and freedom now.

REVEREND FRED SHUTTLESWORTH

Historical Significance

Hopeful progress and moments of tragedy marked the Civil Rights Movement during the course of 1963. Thousands of people across the nation demonstrated their commitment to freedom and equality, sometimes in the face of violence and intimidation. In 1963, more clearly than in any other year, media images offered the nation a definitive picture of the forces supporting segregation and their resolve to maintain it. The inspirational nonviolent commitment of civil rights activists encouraged many Americans, including the president, to support changes in the law.

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A Revolutionary Messenger

John Lewis, president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington. He was asked to tone down his speech to avoid offending Congress and the president. Lewis was one of the original thirteen Congress of Racial Equity (CORE) Freedom Riders and helped lead the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. He was elected to Congress in 1986.

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Program from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Samuel Y. Edgerton

Faces & Voices of Unsung Activists

Initiative

Civil Rights History Project

The Museum and the Library of Congress have produced an invaluable look at the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights History Project provides faces and voices to many of the previously unknown individuals who made valuable contributions to the Civil Rights Movement.
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Listen to the
Music of the March

Marian Anderson sings “He's Got the Whole World in his Hands” at the March on Washington. She is most often recalled for her brave and stirring performance in 1939 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to sing from the stage of their Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin.

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Show What You Care About

Make a Pinback Button for the March on Washington

Pinback buttons have been around for over 100 years. People wear buttons to show support for political causes or other things that they care about. During the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963 marchers wore buttons to show their support. Some people, like Joan Trumpauer-Mulholland, kept them to remember being there that day.
MARCH ON WASHINGTON PINBACK BUTTON ACTIVITY

Remember the March in Color

Civil rights demonstrators gather around the Reflecting Pool in front of the Washington Monument.
01/07

Civil rights demonstrators gather around the Reflecting Pool in front of the Washington Monument. (Photo Credit: Bob Parent/Getty Images)
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Martin Luther King Jr. shaking hands with the crowd.
02/07

Martin Luther King Jr. shaking hands with the crowd. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
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American singer Mahalia Jackson sings on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
03/07

American singer Mahalia Jackson sings on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Sitting at lower right is Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King, between them is activist Whitney Young. (Photo Credit: Bob Parent/Getty Images)
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Civil rights demonstrators walk with placards in the shadow of the Washington Monument.
04/07

Civil rights demonstrators walk with placards in the shadow of the Washington Monument. (Photo Credit: Bob Parent/Getty Images)
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A chartered school bus from Charles County, Maryland at the March on Washington.
05/07

A chartered school bus from Charles County, Maryland at the March on Washington. (Photo Credit: Bob Parent/Getty Images)
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Civil rights demonstrators are restricted by a fence.
06/07

Civil rights demonstrators are restricted by a fence. (Photo Credit: Bob Parent/Getty Images)
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More than 200,000 people participated in the March on Washington demonstrations.
07/07

More than 200,000 people participated in the March on Washington demonstrations. The throng marched to the Mall and listened to Civil Rights leaders, clergyman and others addressed the crowd, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. (Photo Credit: Bob Parent/Getty Images)
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Explore the Collection

"Liberator" broadside advertising a bus trip to the 1963 March on Washington

"Liberator" broadside advertising a bus trip to the 1963 March on Washington

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Pennant from The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963

Pennant from The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963

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March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: Organizing Manual No. 2, 1963

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: Organizing Manual No. 2, 1963

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Pinback button for the 1963 March on Washington

Pinback button for the 1963 March on Washington

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Pennant from the March on Washington carried by Edith Lee-Payne, 1963

Pennant from the March on Washington carried by Edith Lee-Payne, 1963

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Pen used by Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the 1965 Voting Rights Act

Pen used by Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the 1965 Voting Rights Act

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"Liberator" broadside advertising a bus trip to the 1963 March on Washington
Pennant from The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: Organizing Manual No. 2, 1963
Pinback button for the 1963 March on Washington
Pennant from the March on Washington carried by Edith Lee-Payne, 1963
Pen used by Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the 1965 Voting Rights Act