Article

August 27th, 2003

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Thursday, August 28, 2003 marks the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington, an event led by Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders that changed the course of the civil rights movement.

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On Saturday, political and religious leaders, along with a diverse crowd of several thousand marchers, gathered in Washington D.C. to commemorate the anniversary. Speakers included King’s widow Coretta Scott King, and his son Martin Luther King III.

Thursday the 28th – the actual anniversary day – a march in King’s hometown of Atlanta, Georgia will honor the man and the historic event.

History

Roughly 250,000 people marched through Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963. Called “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” the event called the nation’s attention to the injustice and inequalities that black Americans faced because of the color of their skin.

In support of civil rights for all Americans, the demonstrators made their way from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his memorable and moving “I Have A Dream” speech.

The Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal.” But even after the Civil War and the end of slavery, people of color found themselves treated unfairly. They weren’t allowed in many public schools, they had to eat at separate restaurants and use separate bathrooms, and they had to pay taxes and pass literacy tests to vote. The idea was to keep blacks “separate but equal.”

By the late 1950s a movement had started. People were demanding laws to protect their civil rights – rights that all free Americans are guaranteed as citizens of this country. One was Thurgood Marshall, a lawyer who went on to become the first black justice on the Supreme Court. Another was Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her bus seat to white passengers. One particularly influential speaker and activist was Martin Luther King Jr.

A man with a dream

King was a minister from Alabama who became one of the leading voices of the civil rights movement. One of his first successes was the Montgomery Bus Boycott – a 382-day operation that led to the desegregation of buses.

King was threatened with violence and jail, and his house was even bombed, but this did little to stop him.

From then on King was at the forefront of the civil rights movement. He traveled across the country, organizing protests and marches to call attention to the struggle of black Americans.

Though on several occasions King was thrown in jail, he maintained a philosophy of nonviolence. King believed that fighting back would only make things worse, and the true path to victory could be achieved through preaching truth and acceptance.

The march

In late 1962, civil rights activists started to organize what would become the largest civil rights demonstration in the history of the United States. It took awhile, but by June of 1963, they had put together an impressive group of leaders and speakers – including King – to help them.

The organizers of the march had to make sure people had a way of getting into the city. They had to make sure marchers knew where to go and what to do once they got there. They had to have doctors and nurses in case anyone needed first aid. They had to provide water, security, and be ready for any emergency. And they needed some way to pay for all of it. It was going to take fund raising, planning and lots of work.

On Aug. 28, the city swelled with marchers. They drove in. They bussed in. They took trains. Three student marchers walked and hitchhiked 700 miles to get there. A quarter million people waved signs and cheered and listened to speakers address the civil rights problems challenging America. The last speaker was Martin Luther King Jr.

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation,” King began. His ensuing speech is remembered as one of the corner stones of the civil rights movement.

A year later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made segregation in public places illegal, required employers to provide equal employment opportunities, and protected the right to vote of every American, regardless of the color of their skin.

– Compiled by Chris Nammour for NewsHour Extra

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