Historic News Account of the March on Washington

August 20th, 2013

This month, thousands of Americans will travel to Washington, DC for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington to commemorate the march’s role in shaping the Civil Rights Movement. Read this historic article from the New York Times with your students to better understand the mood of the nation in August 1963.

Today, the march is credited with helping turn the tide of public opinion for civil rights, making way for the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But in the immediate aftermath of the march, its impact was unclear.

Democratic Senate Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana, for instance, “could not say whether the mass protest would speed the legislation,” while Republican Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois suggested the civil rights bill would be entirely unaffected by the demonstration. Conversely, many of the march’s speakers claimed that the passage of a strengthened civil rights bill had been assured by the events of the day. President Kennedy was similarly optimistic, releasing a statement that noted, “The cause of 20 million Negroes has been advanced by the program conducted so appropriately before the Nation’s shrine to the Great Emancipator, but even more significant is the contribution to all mankind.

The March on Washington is remembered particularly for Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful “I Have a Dream” speech. Read the Times’ account of the crowd’s reaction to King’s remarks:

But paradoxically it was King—who had suffered perhaps most of all—who ignited the crowd with words that might have been written by the sad, brooding man enshrined within.

As he arose, a great roar welled up from the crowd. When he started to speak, a hush fell.

“Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream,” he said.

“It is a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

Dream of Brotherhood

“I have a dream…” The vast throng listening intently to him roared.

“…that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.

“I have a dream…” The crowd roared.

“…that one day even the State of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

“I have a dream…” The crowd roared.

“…that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

“I have a dream…” The crowd roared.

“…that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

As Dr. King concluded with a quotation from a Negro hymn—“Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty”—the crowd, recognizing that he was finishing, roared once again and waved their signs and pennants.

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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