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.
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.
Marching on the Mall
Why We March
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
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.
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.
Faces & Voices of Unsung Activists
Civil Rights History Project
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.