1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

The Lokashakti Encyclopedia of Nonviolence, Peace, & Social Justice

1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

In the early 1960’s, the Southern civil rights movement got increasing support from white sympathizers in the North. Students and clergy came south by the thousands to work on voter registration, to picket and to sit-in with Southern blacks. Sometimes the strategy was successful and sometimes major campaigns failed, but the movement grew. During the 1960 sit-ins, 3600 demonstrators were arrested in eight months, but there were at least four times that many arrests during the same time period in 1963.

Albany, Georgia was the scene of a major campaign launched by SNCC and SCLC to test the difficulty of ending segregation in the smaller cities of the deep South. Hundreds of people were jailed and many ugly incidents occurred but after two years of struggle, no one could discern any real progress. In Albany and throughout the movement there were many examples of individual courage and sacrifice, such as that of William Moore, a white CORE member from Baltimore. On the night of April 23, 1963, while on a one-man freedom walk to the governor of Mississippi, Moore was shot in the back and killed on an Alabama highway.

1963 March on Washington pinFrustrated by failure in places like Albany and encouraged by growing Northern support, the major civil rights groups collaborated in a March on Washington on August 28, 1963 in an attempt to gain federal support for the drive against segregation in the deep South. Bayard Rustin was lent by the War Resisters League to help organize the march with A. Philip Randolph. It was the largest demonstration in American history up to that time: 200,000 people, including 150 members of Congress. The speeches were more hopeful than angry. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks, SNCC chairperson John Lewis, Rev. Eugene Carson Blake, A. Philip Randolph, Walter Reuther and others spoke of all that needed to be done. Mahalia Jackson, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary sang.

Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 1963 March on WashingtonNot long after the March on Washington, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed job discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin; outlawed segregation in public places; created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforced the job discrimination ban; and created the Community Relations Service to mediate civil rights disputes with local officials. The job discrimination provisions did not have much immediate effect, but the provision requiring the integration of action campaigns had failed. Few motels and restaurants resisted the new federal law openly, even in the rural areas of the deep South, though more establishments tried to discourage black customers with discourteous service.

Robert Cooney and Helen Michalowski, reprinted with permission, from The Power of the People: Active Nonviolence in the United States.  Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1987.
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