2. The March on Washington
for Jobs and Freedom
(28 Aug 1963)
One of the most remembered and
celebrated moments of the civil rights
movement, the March on Washington
for Jobs and Freedom was conceived
by A. Philip Randolph and and
executed by his protégé Bayard Rustin.
The demonstration was offered as a
centennial commemoration of the
Emancipation Proclamation and was
scheduled to mark the eighth
anniversary of Emmett Till’s murder.
3. The March on Washington
• The original March on Washington (MOW)
movement emerged in the 1940s under the leadership
of A. Philip Randolph, a labor organizer and head of
the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
• The initial demand was an end to discrimination in
defense industries and federal agencies through a
massive, militant grassroots Black movement, a
tactic that other civil rights leaders like those of the
interracial NAACP deemed unwise.
• The march, planned for July 1, 1941, was expected
to draw 100,000 people. It was called off a week
before when Roosevelt established the Fair
Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to
investigate discrimination in defense industries.
• The MOW movement continued until 1947 with
mass rallies and demonstrations, but more than 15
years would pass before a “March on Washington”
like that Randolph envisioned would actually occur.
• The armed forces remained segregated until 1948,
when President Truman issued an executive order to
4. Bayard Rustin
• A socialist and pacifist, Bayard Rustin was a key organizer and
strategist for several campaigns during the civil rights era and
the chief architect and planner of the 1963 March on
• He worked with Randolph on the 1941 MOW and was an
original freedom rider with the 1947 Fellowship of
• Rustin advised King during the Montgomery bus boycott and
taught him the ways of Gandhian nonviolence. In the early years
of his national leadership, King sought Rustin’s advice regularly.
• The FBI drove a wedge between King and Rustin by threatening
to suggest that the two were having a sexual affair. King
thereafter worked to distance himself from Rustin, bowing to the
rampant homophobia of that time.
• A few weeks prior to the March, SC Senator Strom Thurmond,
author of the “Southern Manifesto,” publically attacked Rustin
as a “Communist, draft-dodger, and homosexual.” Rustin’s
sexual orientation—and his refusal to deny or apologize for his
homosexuality—is the central reason his leadership was not
more visible and is not more widely acknowledged today.
5. March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
• Randolph suggested a March on Washington to demand a higher
minimum wage and a federal jobs program.
• Once other civil rights groups signed on to the effort, the focus shifted
to demanding passage of the civil rights bill then pending in Congress.
7. As Chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, John Lewis, at 23, was the
youngest speaker at the March on Washington. His original draft was harshly critical of the
Kennedy administration and its reluctance to address civil rights violations and racism across
the nation. However, in the speech he actually delivered, Lewis deferred to the requests of older
civil rights leaders like A. Philip Randolph, who had called for a March on Washington two
decades prior, and tempered his message to avoid alienating white moderates. Nonetheless, his
tone was still intensely radical.
8. “I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this
nation. Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet
of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is
complete….For in the Delta in Mississippi, in southwest Georgia, in the
Black Belt of Alabama, in Harlem, in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and
all over this nation, the black masses are on the march for jobs and
freedom. They’re talking about slow down and stop. We will not stop. All
of [this opposition] will not stop this revolution. If we do not get
meaningful legislation out of this Congress, the time will come when we
will not confine our marching to Washington. We will march through the
South…But we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of
dignity that we have shown here today. By the force of our demands, our
determination, and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into
a thousand pieces and put them together in the image of God and
democracy. We must say: ‘Wake up America! Wake up!’ For we cannot
stop, and we will not and cannot be patient.”
10. “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights,
when will you be satisfied?
We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the
unspeakable horrors of police brutality.
We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel,
cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.
We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is
from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.
We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood
and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: for whites only.
We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and
a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.
No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down
like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
– King, “I Have a Dream” speech
11. Malcolm X on King and the March on Washington
Malcolm X was critical of the choice to utilize children in the Birmingham campaign,
asserting, “real men don’t put their children on the firing line.” In general, X dismissed
inter-racialism as a tactic and strategy as ineffectual and counter-revolutionary.
“It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong.
What you do? You integrate it with cream; you make it weak. If you pour too much cream
in, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to
be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it’ll put you to sleep. This is what
they did with the march on Washington. They [white people] joined it. They didn’t integrate
it; they infiltrated it. They joined it, became a part of it, took it over. And as they took it
over, it lost its militancy. They ceased to be angry. They ceased to be hot. They ceased to be
uncompromising. Why, it even ceased to be a march. It became a picnic, a circus. Nothing
but a circus, with clowns and all....I know you don’t like what I’m saying, but I’m going to
tell you anyway. ‘Cause I can prove what I’m saying. If you think I’m telling you wrong,
you bring me Martin Luther King and A. Philip Randolph and James Farmer and those
other three, and see if they’ll deny it over a microphone. /
No, it was a sellout. It was a takeover.”
—“Message to the Grassroots” (1963)
12. Less than three weeks after the March on Washington,
the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, central to the
success of the Birmingham campaign earlier that year,
was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan during the monthly
children’s mass. Four girls, ages 11 and 14, were
killed and a fifth, the younger sister of one of the dead,
was partially blinded. The FBI and local law
enforcement quickly determined the names of four
suspects, but the first of the four was not brought to
trial until 1977. Nearly forty years passed before two
others were convicted.
In addition to the four girls killed in the bombing, two
Black boys, 13 year-old Virgil Ware and 16 year-old
Johnnie Robinson, were also killed that day in
Birmingham. Robinson was shot in the back by police
for allegedly throwing rocks at cars driven by white
Bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
(15 Sep 1963)
14. The day after the bombing, a young white lawyer named Charles Morgan Jr. sternly
assigned responsibility for the attack:
“All across Alabama, an angry, guilty people cry out their mocking shouts of indignity and say
they wonder, ‘Why?’ ‘Who?’ Everyone then ‘deplores’ the ‘dastardly’ act. But you know the
‘who’ of ‘who did it’ is really rather simple. The ‘who’ is every little individual who talks about
the [n-word] and spreads the seeds of his hate to his neighbor and his son. The jokester, the crude
oaf whose racial jokes rock the party with laughter. The ‘who’ is every governor who ever
shouted for lawlessness and became a law violator. It is every senator and every representative
who in the halls of Congress stands and with mock humility tells the world that things back
home aren’t really like they are. It is courts that move ever so slowly, and newspapers that
timorously defend the law.”
In the aftermath of the 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston,
South Carolina, of nine Black worshippers by a white nationalist who had just
attended their prayer meeting, The Atlantic reflected on the historical significance of
the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing more than fifty years before. “It was
the size of the explosion and the massacre of young children that seemed to make it
different” from the numerous other racist bombings of that era. “Even Governor
George Wallace, one of the nation’s most outspoken and virulent segregationists,
offered a $5,000 reward for the arrest of the bombers.”