MARCH ON WASHINGTON AND ITS IMPACT
Overview: students will read Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech and explore themes such as the social conditions in the U.S. that led to the civil-rights movement, King's philosophy and practice of peaceful resistance, the immediate impact of the March on society at the time and the long-term significance of the March.
Time: One class period, plus extended activities
On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The March sought to address the conditions under which most black Americans were living at the time and to facilitate "meaningful civil rights laws, a massive federal works program, full and fair employment, decent housing, the right to vote, and adequate integrated education." (From the National Office of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.)
It was before this gathering that the day's most prominent speaker, civil-rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, considered one of the landmark pieces of rhetoric in American history.
The event itself was organized by a coalition of civil rights organizations, religious institutions and labor unions, including the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the National Urban League, the National Council of Churches, and the UAW (United Auto Workers).
In addition, popular artists such as Marian Anderson, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez performed for the gathering.
However, various influential organizations and individuals opposed the March. Besides the expected, such as southern segregationists and members of the Ku Klux Klan, the black-separatist group Nation of Islam and its outspoken member, Malcolm X, adamantly disagreed with the peaceful intentions of the event.
President John F. Kennedy was initially opposed to the March as well, but not because of its ambitions. Kennedy was concerned that the event might exacerbate already heightened racial tensions across the country and perhaps erode the public support for the civil rights movement at large.
Nonetheless, the March on Washington proved to be an extraordinary success. It not only functioned as a plea for equality and justice; it also helped pave the way for both the ratification of the Twenty Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (outlawing the poll tax, a tax levied on individuals as a requirement for voting) and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (desegregating public institutions and outlawing employment discrimination).
Newshour EXTRA Article: The
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
Link to text: Emancipation
Text of "I
Have a Dream": Printer-friendly PDF
NOTE: The Printer-friendly PDF version of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech is
only available until September 27, 2003 due to a licensing agreement.)
1. Begin by supplying foundation material for the students via the Online Newshour article and the background explanation above.
2. Have the students carefully read the entire speech either in small groups or individually.
4. Ask the students to respond to the following questions:
5. Discuss the responses as a class.
The March on Washington has inspired a great number of subsequent protests, such as the Million Man March and the Million Mom March. As a larger activity, have your students plan a new march (either as a class or in small groups) that would appeal to correct an existing injustice in society. Questions to guide the planning may include:
Correlation to National Standards
detailed explanations, please consult
1: Culture and Cultural Diversity
Doug DuBrin currently teaches English and history at the French International
School in Bethesda, MD. Before that he taught English and history at Arizona School
for the Arts in Phoenix. Doug is also a freelance writer and editor.
To find out more about opportunities to contribute to this site, contact Leah Clapman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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