On 28 August 1963, more than 200,000 demonstrators took part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the nation’s capital. The march was successful in pressuring the administration of John F. Kennedy to initiate a strong federal civil rights bill in Congress. During this event, Martin Luther King delivered his memorable ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ speech.
The 1963 March on Washington had several precedents. In the summer of 1941 A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, called for a march on Washington, D. C., to draw attention to the exclusion of African Americans from positions in the national defense industry. This job market had proven to be closed to blacks, despite the fact that it was growing to supply materials to the Allies in World War II. The threat of 100,000 marchers in Washington, D.C., pushed President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802, which mandated the formation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission to investigate racial discrimination charges against defense ﬁrms. In response, Randolph cancelled plans for the march.
Civil rights demonstrators did assemble at the Lincoln Memorial in May 1957 for a Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on the third anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, and in October 1958, for a Youth March for Integrated Schools to protest the lack of progress since that ruling. King addressed the 1957 demonstration, but due to ill health after being stabbed by Izola Curry, Coretta Scott King delivered his sched¬uled remarks at the 1958 event.
By 1963, the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, most of the goals of these earlier protests still had not been realized. High levels of black unemployment, work that offered most African Americans only minimal wages and poor job mobility, systematic disenfranchisement of many African Americans, and the persistence of racial segrgation in the South prompted discussions about a large scale march for political and economic justice as early as 1962. On behalf of the Negro American Labor Council (NALC), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Randolph wrote a letter on 24 May 1962 to Secretary Stewart Udall of the Department of the Interior regarding permits for a march culminating at the Lincoln Memorial that fall. Plans for the march were stalled when Udall encouraged the groups to consider the Sylvan Theater at the Washington Monument due to the complications of rerouting trafﬁc and the volume of tourists at the Lincoln Memorial.
In March 1963 Randolph telegraphed King that the NALC had begun planning a June march ‘‘for Negro job rights,’’ and asked for King’s immediate response (Randolph, 26 March 1963). In May, at the height of the Birmingham Campaign, King joined Randolph, James Farmer of CORE, and Charles McDew of SNCC in calling for such an action later that year, declaring, ‘‘Let the black laboring masses speak!’’ (King et al., 7 May 1963) After notifying President Kennedy of their intent, the leaders of the major civil rights organizations set the march date for 28 August. The stated goals of the protest included ‘‘a comprehensive civil rights bill’’ that would do away with segregated public accommodations; ‘‘protection of the right to vote’’; mechanisms for seeking redress of violations of constitutional rights; ‘‘desegregation of all public schools in 1963’’; a massive federal works program ‘‘to train and place unemployed workers’’; and ‘‘a Federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination in all employment’’ (‘‘Goals of Rights March’’).
As the summer passed, the list of organizations participating in and sponsoring the event expanded to include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in America, the United Auto Workers (UAW), and many others.
The March on Washington was not universally embraced. It was condemned by the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X who referred to it as ‘‘the Farce on Washington,’’ although he attended nonetheless (Malcolm X, 278). The executive board of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) declined to support the march, adopting a position of neutrality. Nevertheless, many constituent unions attended in substantial numbers.
The diversity of those in attendance was reﬂected in the event’s speakers and performers. They included singers Marian Anderson, Odetta, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan; Little Rock civil rights veteran Daisy Lee Bates; actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee; American Jewish Congress president Rabbi Joachim Prinz; Randolph; UAW president Walter Reuther; march organizer Bayard Rustin; NAACP president Roy Wilkins; National Urban League president Whitney Young and SNCC leader John Lewis.
A draft of John Lewis’ prepared speech, circulated before the march, was denounced by Reuther, Burke Marshall, and Patrick O’Boyle, the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C., for its militant tone. In the speech’s original version Lewis charged that the Kennedy administration’s proposed Civil Rights Act was ‘‘too little and too late,’’ and threatened not only to march in Washington but to ‘‘march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We will pursue our own ‘scorched earth’ policy’’ (Lewis, 221; 224). In a caucus that included King, Randolph, and SNCC’s James Forman, Lewis agreed to eliminate those and other phrases, but believed that in its ﬁnal form his address ‘‘was still a strong speech, very strong’’ (Lewis, 227).
The day’s high point came when King took the podium toward the end of the event, and moved the Lincoln Memorial audience and live television viewers with what has come to be known as his ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ speech. King commented that ‘‘as television beamed the image of this extraordinary gathering across the border oceans, everyone who believed in man’s capacity to better himself had a moment of inspiration and conﬁdence in the future of the human race,’’ and characterized the march as an ‘‘appropriate climax’’ to the summer’s events (King, ‘‘I Have a Dream,’’ 125; 122).
After the march, King and other civil rights leaders met with President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House, where they discussed the need for bipartisan support of civil rights legislation. Though they were passed after Kennedy’s death, the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 reﬂect the demands of the march.
Branch, Parting the Waters, 1988.
Carson, In Struggle, 1981
‘‘Goals of Rights March,’’ New York Times, 29 August 1963.
King, Address at youth march for integrated schools in Washington, D.C., Delivered by Coretta Scott King, 25 October 1958, in Papers 4:514–515.
King, ‘‘Give Us the Ballot,’’ Address at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 17 May 1957, in Papers 4:208–215.
King, ‘‘I Have a Dream,’’ in A Call to Conscience, Carson and Shepard, eds., 2001.
King, Why We Can’t Wait, 1964.
King, Randolph, Farmer, and McDew, Call for an Emancipation March on Washington for Jobs, 7 May 1963, BRP-DLC.
Lewis, Walking with the Wind, 1998.
Malcolm X with Haley, Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1965.
Randolph to King, 26 March 1963, MLKJP-GAMK.
Civil Rights and the Growth of Our Country
One of the primary goals of American Civil Rights Movement was to ensure that African Americans get adequate economic opportunities and achieve economic equality. The 1963 March on Washington was a march aiming to achieve “Jobs and Freedom.” Indeed, the black-white unemployment gap seems to have emerged around twenty years prior to the movement, in the 1940s. Analysis of the primary source, U.S. Census data, for different years in the 1940s, allows us to see that the two-to-one gap in employment of white and black workforce was persistent. Analysis of another primary source, Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 1954 allows us to see that the black rate of unemployment was 4.9% higher than the white one (9.9% to only 5%), i.e. almost twice as high.
THESIS STATEMENT: The accomplishments Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s improved the economic conditions of African Americans, fostered economic growth in the United States, and helped to advance democracy within the society.
The achievements of Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s improved the economic conditions of African Americans. The greatest achievements against economic discrimination of the African-American population were the passage in 1964 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited any discrimination in employment and public accommodation, as well as passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination of black people in rental of housing and sale of property.
Analysis of another primary source allows claiming that the economic situation improved for black Americans following the passage of the aforementioned acts. The 1974 article in The Time magazine “Races: America’s Rising Black Middle Class” provides descriptions of numerous successes of black Americans in the economic sphere in the years following the passage of the anti-discriminatory legislation. The article explains that the legislation and its subsequent enforcement by the U.S. federal government, changing opinions and attitudes of the public, and a passionate desire demonstrated by the African Americans themselves to grow upwardly mobile caused a rising number of the black people in the middle class. This was possible owing to availability of higher paying jobs, open access to managerial positions, better attitudes by employers, as well as broad education opportunities. Despite the fact that by the time the article was published, the black population had by no means reached the level of economic equality with Caucasian Americans and there were still persuasive problems, African Americans made considerable advancements. The article suggests that the struggles to achieve the economic equality with the white population got realized in the 1970s, namely through legislation and a variety of other means of federal assistance.
Next, the Civil Rights Movement had a powerful economic impact on American society. Desegregation of various industries brought black workers to factories and plants across the States. This led to thriving textile, mill, and other industries. Specifically, the economic rise of the textile industry was so impressive that its results could be seen by the level of black workers living standards. Not only were African Americans now able to find better jobs and receive decent wages, they started selling their children to colleges. To illustrate, the share of black workforce at textile companies across South Carolina, leaped from less than 5% back in 1963 to over 20% in 1970. Moreover, as Wright thinks, “the civil-rights movement opened the South to inflows of capital, creativity and new enterprises from around the world,” so the U.S. economy and not only black but also white citizens became long-term beneficiaries of the dramatic changes brought by the Civil Rights Movement.
Finally, the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement helped to advance democracy within the society. Based on the secondary source “Race Relations in the United States, 1960-1980,” successes of the black population energized and inspired other ethnic minorities as never before. In the 1970s, there were movements in the Indian American, Latino, Asian American, and LGBT communities. Similarly to African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, these new movements emerged as a result of being on the margins of the U.S. political, economic, and cultural life. These minorities realized that through forming a group consciousness, it was possible to air their grievances in a more powerful way. In order to reach their aims, the minority groups used the rhetoric, tactics, and forms that had been earlier used by the African American movement. For instance, on February 7, 1973, Indians from the American Indian Movement decided to occupy the town of Wounded Knee, and they held it for 71 days. At the time, that was the third most documented event after the Vietnam War and Watergate.
In summary, the Civil Rights Movement was a success in the United States, and it fostered the economic growth. Black workers got a chance to find jobs in a variety of previously in accessible industries. Along with the growing incomes of these workers, the industries started getting higher revenues. Also, the Civil Rights Movement fostered the advanced of democracy in the country as the representatives of other races got inspired to unite and fight for their rights. Thus, the Civil Rights Movement contributed to the growth of our country.