March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

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.

A. Philip Randolph,…at the Lincoln Memorial, during 1963 March on Washington. United Press International, 1963. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

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.

Signs Carried By Many Marchers, during the March on Washington, 1963. Mary S. Trikosko, photographer, [Aug. 28, 1963]. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

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.

Copy of Photograph Showing Left to Right: John Lewis, Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, and Roy Wilkins. Bill Sauro, photographer, July 4, 1963. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection. Prints & Photographs Division.

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.

View of the Huge Crowd from the Lincoln Memorial…during the March on Washington. Warren K. Leffler, photographer, [Aug. 28, 1963]. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Learn More

  • Explore the Rosa Parks Papers to discover additional primary sources about the March on Washington. For example, in a Subject File folder on the March, read the Organizing Manual and other materials created by the organizers.
  • Listen to A. Philip Randolph, the organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at the National Press Club two days before the March, where he explains the reasons for the March on Washington (listen to 05.00-14.09), how it serves as a model against racial bias, what it will achieve in motivating people to do something about the problem of abolishing racial violence in America, and its goal to “highlight the idea of the struggle of Negroes in America to achieve the transition from second class citizenship, to first class citizenship,” and…“bring world pressure upon the United States of America to step up the struggle to wipe out race bias.”
  • Read Protests That Changed America: The March on Washington to review selected reasons the March on Washington is considered “the most significant protest for social justice in the nation.”
  • Experience the March on Washington through images found in the collections of the Library’s Prints & Photographs Division. Selections are included in the online exhibit, A Day Like No Other: Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
  • Explore the history and lyrics of the song “We Shall Overcome.” Read “Tracing the Long Journey of “We Shall Overcome”.
  • Search on the term civil rights leaders in Today in History to read more about the lives of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, Booker T. Washington, and Mary Church Terrell.
  • Explore the Civil Rights History Project. Included are interviews of several people who participated in the March on Washington as well as many other aspects of the Civil Rights movement to obtain justice, freedom and equality for African Americans. This collection seeks to record and make widely accessible interviews with people who participated in the struggles.