On August 28, 1963, over a quarter million Americans marched to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C and made our country a neighborhood. Called the “March on Washington,” this huge assemblage was actually a message to America which still resounds 53 years later.
Faces of many colors and hearts of many faiths had traveled from every part of the nation, most by “Freedom Buses,” many by automobile and airplane.
Ledger Smith actually skated 698 miles from Chicago to DC. Some even walked miles to march on Washington.
Some members of the Brooklyn chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) walked the 230 miles to the march in thirteen days. These and other walkers, feet on the ground, set out to literally march from their homes to America’s largest outdoor civic rally. Their walking was also a reminder that much of the power of the Civil Rights movement itself came from the many smaller marches against racial segregation and political oppression.
Hollywood, music and literary celebrities joined hands with civil rights and political leaders in the massive August 1963 March on Washington, which climaxed in Martin Luther King Jr.’s epic, “I Have a Dream” speech.”
The sheer number of people facing the Lincoln Memorial surprised leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the NAACP, the Urban League, the National Council of Churches, the Synagogue Council of America, CORE and the National Council of Christians and Jews—among others.
The prime organizer of the March was Baynard Rustin, a master organizer.
John F. Kennedy, at that time, our President, placed 19,000 troops to wait in readiness on the outskirts of the city and had a special agent authorized to cut the power to every microphone on the speakers’ rostrum, in case the speakers incited the massive crowd to violence. Flanked by the waters of the memorial, the police figured that the crowd would be easier to contain if the preceding erupted in violence.
The original theme of the March on Washington was “Jobs and Freedom.” But protests in Birmingham and President Kennedy’s civil rights bill changed the agenda to lobbying for the Civil Rights bill that was making its way through Congress.
The underlying point of the March was that the nation had a duty to combat the racism and anti-black violence during the decade since the Supreme Court in 1954 had declared that racial segregation was unconstitutional.
The March was in effect a last-ditch attempt to keep black rage at national injustice from indeed becoming violent. Only 4 people were arrested, none of them black.
You know the rest of the story: Martin Luther King, the hero of the black civil rights movement for nearly a decade gave the “I Have a Dream,” speech, a speech which pictured our nation truly united, indeed a blessed and fruitful land where everyone was a fellow citizen enjoying equal rights and equal justice.
The entire nation heard the speech, a speech which immediately became “a national hymn” of hope, the Gettysburg Address of our time, delivered before Lincoln’s statue in the middle of the ongoing struggle for peace, justice, and freedom.
Alvin Ponder, M.D., is a doctor, educator, anti-AIDS activist and serves on Bronx Community Board #10. He is a member of Mt. Vernon’s Grace Baptist Church, resides in Co-op City, and is running for the New York State Senate, District 36, on a campaign platform: Improving Community Health and Quality of Life.
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company.
AJ is a Father, Brother, Author, Writer, Journalism Fellow, Rapper, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian and A Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine and several others.