Primary Documents and the March on Washington

August 19th, 2013

We’re quickly approaching the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington! Put your students in the situation of the marchers with the help of an amazing interactive feature from Time magazine, One Dream,” which chronicles the historic march with interviews of the participants.

The feature’s five units span the history of the Civil Rights Movement and include video interviews, personal narratives, and previously unreleased photographs. For the “One Dream” project, Time interviewed 17 people who participated in the march, including leaders who spoke alongside Martin Luther King Jr., photographers who documented history at the march, and ordinary citizens moved to hitchhike nearly 1,000 miles to the historic rally.

Singer Harry Belafonte, for instance, describes the lead-up to the march, and poignantly addresses the injustice of serving in the military during a time when African Americans were denied the right to vote:

At the end of the Second World War, those of us who had participated in that conflict were under the impression that if we were triumphant over fascism and the Nazis, that the men and women who returned from that conflict would be celebrated and honored by our nation. Many of us went off to that war and didn’t have the right to vote. Many of us went off to that war and didn’t have the right to participate in the American Dream. We didn’t really think about this thing as a dream until Dr. King articulated it.

As a kid, there was not much I could aspire to, because the achievement of black people in spaces of power and rule and governance was not that evident, and therefore we were diminished in the way we thought we could access power and be part of the American fabric. So we who came back from this war having expectations and finding that there were none to be harvested were put upon to make a decision. We could accept the status quo as it was beginning to reveal itself with these oppressive laws still in place. Or, as had begun to appear on the horizon, stimulated by something Mahatma Gandhi of India had done, we could start this quest for social change by confronting the state a little differently. Let’s do it nonviolently, let’s use passive thinking applied to aggressive ideas, and perhaps we could overthrow the oppression by making it morally unacceptable.

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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