Did you know? Facts about the March on Washington

August 26th, 2013

As the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington nears, we’re sharing stories of the march and its impact on the Civil Rights Movement. Scott Armstrong from the Christian Science Monitor has compiled a list of ten facts about the March on Washington that you may not know.  

While you may be familiar with the scale of the march—more than 200,000 demonstrators in total—the origins of the march are less well known. In 1941, A. Philip Randolph, president of the Negro American Labor Council, proposed a 100,000 person march in Washington to protest discrimination in defense industries. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order outlawing racial discrimination in munitions plants, preventing the march from taking place.

Armstrong also notes President John F. Kennedy’s initial trepidation about the march. In a June 1963 meeting with civil rights leaders, Kennedy expressed concerns that the march would hurt the prospects of civil rights legislation: “We want success in the Congress, not a big show on the Capitol.” Kennedy eventually supported the march, releasing a statement that said “the cause of 20 million Negroes has been advanced” by the demonstration.

The March on Washington is best known for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, though those words were not contained in King’s draft of the speech. According to Clarence Jones, an adviser to King who wrote an early draft of the speech, King improvised those famous words. During King’s remarks, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream,” inspiring King to depart from the planned oration and deliver one of the most iconic phrases in American history.

For more on the Civil Rights Movement, check out our “The Meaning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day” ebook, full of stories, speeches, and songs honoring the movement.

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