On August 28, 1963, one-hundred years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, approximately 200,000 to 250,000 people arrived in Washington, D.C., and peacefully marched down Constitution and Independence Avenues to the Lincoln Memorial, to rectify, in the words of A. Philip Randolph, “old grievances and to help resolve an American crisis.” Precipitating factors included the subjugation of African Americans to Jim Crow segregation and laws in practically every sector in society, a disproportionate level of high unemployment and unequal wages, and other forms of legal, economic, and social inequality.
The marchers, representing rural and urban areas from every corner of the nation, arrived by train, plane, bus, and car. Newspapers reported that the marchers were young and old; black, white, and brown. They were sharecroppers and socialites. The marchers were prayerful, jubilant, and tearful; embraced each other throughout the day and sang traditional spirituals such as “Oh Freedom,” “Ain’t Gon’ Let Nobody Turn Me Round,” and “We Shall Overcome.” These supporters of the March were in Washington to introduce ten levels of demands, of which the first was the demand for comprehensive and effective civil rights legislation that would guarantee all Americans: (1) access to all public accommodations, (2) decent housing, (3) adequate and integrated education, and (4) the right to vote. Other demands included: withholding Federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists; a massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers –black and white—on meaningful and dignified jobs with decent wages.
The six primary organizers and organizations for the March were: (1) James Farmer, National Director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), (2) Reverend Martin Luther King, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), (3) John Lewis, Chairman of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), (4) A. Philip Randolph, President of the Negro American Labor Organization, (5) Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and (6) Whitney Young, Executive Director of the Urban League. These leaders of prominent civil rights organizations came together to commemorate the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and to call attention to the atrocities African Americans were still experiencing. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King gave his iconic “I Have a Dream”External speech on this occasion.
The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom drew attention to the systemic racism and the discrimination which African Americans still experience in education, housing, and jobs. It also called for Federal legislation to guarantee the right to vote for all Americans.